The LP is a special format that will long outlast the various media by which it is distributed. It is also a more difficult and lasting achievement than a song on its own. But it often takes a different approach to make a great album than a great song. For many electronic artists, there is little public demand for album-length releases, so their creation must be undertaken entirely of their own volition. For this I salute all those musicians who think beyond the end of the track and congratulate those who have completed such an effort. As usual, you can hear a playlist of these picks at the right or click through for a fuller offering.
10 Mr Oizo - Stade 3 [self-released]
Quentin Dupieux self-released this record on his own Apple II-esque green and beige website (complete with I-Oizo Shit-MPC), after virtually zero hype to virtually zero fanfare. Showcasing his weirdest noises and most unlistenable synth tones. It is, in a word, perverse. (With song titles like "Calculatrix" and "Peehurts" you should probably have seen that coming.) But it also displays his singular sonic talent, rhythmic perfection in completely original grooves, and inimitable production bombast. Pretty much everything else sounds like elevator music after listening to this.
9 Isaac Tichauer - Devotion [French Express]
Here is an album dedicated to that lustful melancholy, the soulful part of house that so much of modern dance music is missing. From one slow-burn tune to the next, Tichaeur never loses sight of the goal - divine perfection. If that seems like a jarring contrast with the hedonistic pleasures of club music, let your skepticism wash away in a flood of cleansing reverbs, seamless pitched-out vocals, and endless waves of 4/4 bliss.
8Breakbot - By Your Side [Ed Banger/Because]
One of few modern producers fully committed to writing and recording actual songs rather than just loop-based tracks, Breakbot flexes his whole studio on this record, bringing out his cleanest funk guitars, slinky pop pianos, and loads of guest vocals. Standout ballad "Another Dawn" sees Irfane successfully channeling the most passionate tunes from Hall and Oates, while Ruckazoid shows off his controversial MJ impression to great effect. Breakbot meanwhile sits back in the mix, showing off his sampling skills only on the too-short interlude "Easy Fraction," which sounds like Jay Dilla on steroids.
7 Poolside - Pacific Standard Time [self-released]
Poolside are a wonderful surprise. In a world of DJ-hating rockers and EDM producers who've never played an instrument, Poolside are admirably content to float wherever there sound takes them. On this record, a slow, house-influenced dance-pop style emerges from their taut guitar playing, drummer-meets machine grooves, well-tooled mallet percussion melodies (and the decade's best use of a Patrice Rushen sample). Channeling LCD Soundsystem at their most sedate, Pacific Standard Time is a thesis statement of Californian fantasies - relaxation, sunsets, and a subtle kind of fame.
6 Holy Other - Held [Tri Angle]
Enough has been said about this producer's incredible sense of space, intimate sampling, and lonesome sound. I'm more impressed with his unique use of rhythm, which is almost never on a downbeat, but nonetheless grooving and patient. Combining odd meters with complex, intersecting patterns of percussion and long silences that never end when you expect, Held is an exercise in uncertainty as an ethic. Rather than beginning, as most post-garage producers do, with a rhythmic template, and adding emotion through harmony - Holy Other infuses the very math of his productions with his trademark unease and disaffection.
5 Surrender! - self titled [La Bombe]
Riding high on on epic melodies, huge kick drums, and perfect midrange filter sounds, Surrender! employs two modes of attack. In the first, he wails on the downbeat, building melody, harmony, and rhythm from a single, hyper-processed sample, of which all that remains is a hypnotic mix of formant and overtones. In the second, he patiently builds his own synth sounds and arpeggios into a blissful noise from which emerges a different, but equally headbanging kind of groove. I hope he continues to fuse these sounds even more closely, because this record is easily the best album of epic, synth-melting, sample-disassembling, dancefloor mayhem in recent memory.
4 Les Loups! - Club Coeur [So Sound]
Disco is dead! Long live disco. Hannover is the new capital. This album is the audio equivalent of the '96 Chicago Bulls playing a full-court press. It's just always in the zone, all the time. Taking a straightforward, loop-that-beat approach to developing tracks, Les Loups are experts of the subtle surprise. With their slap-bass layered on thick and the lowpass filters engaged, they could simply lay back in the cut and let the loops do the talking. But still, they are never content to repeat a hook, and each track is full of unexpected details and second acts that will leave you breathless and wanting more.
3 Vanilla - Soft Focus [self-released]
Let's just file this one under "year's best self-release" to start. Building on his previous beat tapes, the English student put together this 27-track album with astonishing vision. He begins with the LA instrumental hip-hop sound as a template, using its pitchbent soul samples and surreal quantization to build his hypnotic and blissful collages, spaced out and hugely heavy at the same time.
Perhaps his greatest achievement is in actually finding 27 tracks' worth of fantastic samples that defy trainspotting and cutting them into perfect bits, but I think his sound engineering skills actually merit even more praise. It's hard to pick a favorite track, but the horn-driven "By" features what surely must be my favorite-ever application of compression, EQ and spacialization as raw effects.
2 Strip Steve - Micro Mega [Boysnoize]
The moment you look at the cover, you know this is not an ordinary record. It is, first and foremost, a party record: loud, ecstatic, and funky. But it is a party only for those who can hang - casual listeners need not apply. Starting from a palette of old-school techno drum machines, Strip Steve layers on every modern sound and style in a mad experiment that perfectly reflects the album cover's stoner-savant thesis.
From the microsamples that drive "Stomp", "Radiocheck" and "Skate Control", to the the burbling 303 basses on "Money Trouble Funk" and "All The Time", the classic house and acid influences on this record are abundantly clear. The enormous digital snares of "One Thing" and "Calcium" show off the techno prowess of his label's namesake. And if any of these tracks actually sounded much like those influences, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is all an exercise in emulation of youthful heroes. But the sheer unpredictability, flawless technical execution, and seamless fusion of manifold influences make this album a true classic.
1 Para One - Passion [Marble/Because]
Has any record ever sounded so cold and so funky at the same time? An unabashedly experimental disc of glistening future-pop, Passion is the sound of a producer exploring the outer limits of his musical mind. The result is a very messy but undeniably catchy collage of house, hip-hop, garage, IDM, j-pop, and electro (the original kind). From any other artist, that might be an unlistenable and delusionally ambitious approach. On this record, it's all taken perfectly in stride, and without the least pretense.
It's hard to say what's so distinctive about Para One's sound. Like Phonat's productions, there's a certain, ineluctable quality of immediacy, loudness, and precision. Some of it undoubtedly arises from his devoted use of analog devices in a digital studio, melding perfect sequencing and automation with never-the-same-sound-twice outboard hardware. But the major factor is apparent in this record's other aspects — meticulous arrangement, laboriously perfect mixing, and a conspicuous lack of outright repetition. It's this quality that makes him such a producers' producer (and may make a more apt title for the album) — patience.
Thanks again! 2012, it was nice knowing you. Sort out any year-end arguments on my facebook page, and don't forget to follow me on soundcloud for more original future funk and genre-bending mixtapes. — D/D