I am a London-based Digital PR/Social Media/SEO Consultant, music producer/anorak, deep sea diver, avid cyclist, worldwide traveller and football-loving technology bod! This page functions as a kind of online scrapbook/resource featuring my favourite blog posts and news items as well as my own personal reviews and recommendations in the worlds of music, sport, travel and technology!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Best of the Decade

Best of the Decade: "

So over MGMT I’m not actually over MGMT. From the tiny bit I’ve heard, they seem good. Plus they went to my school, so big up. But it’s not really what I’ve been concentrating on this decade. Not to say that I haven’t heard some electronic infused rock that I liked … in fact, looking at my list of the top 50 music things of the decade there’s actually a lot of rock-ish things in there. Maybe it’s the conditions I set for myself. For some not entirely clear reason, I decided to count only albums or Label Catalogs. Which is odd because I’ve written against counting only albums in the electronic seen. Dubstep is not an album drive scene. Nor is Dancehall. Nor was Jungle.

But because I had to start somewhere, and I’d painstakingly gone through singles and unreleased tracks for the best of ‘09, it seem to make sense to start with smallest discrete unit as the album. So, without further ado, here are: 50 albums, series, or label catalogs that either 1) I think are near perfect creations that I can listen to on repeat and always hear new things or 2) representative of a favorite artist’s output for the decade or 3) particularly unique and important, boundary pushing releases that deserved attention for affecting the course of my musical understanding of the decade OR 4) That I just damn love so much for some reason or another OR 5) All of the above. And looking through it right now, it really IS a lot of rock. Maybe after all these years I just still love a well crafted pop song. But I guess I knew that already.

Aaron Spectre – zzzzzzzzzz/Lost Tracks

Aaron Spectre is an amazing producer and I wish more people knew about him, like that the whole world knew about him. His range over this decade is incredible going from Ambient to Jungle to Metal to breaks/dubstep, and literally creating some of the best music I’ve heard in every single one of those genres. Lost Tracks was the album that got released on Ad Noiseam in the mid/late ’00s, but much of it is based on a demo called “zzzzzzzzzz” that he handed me back at a gig at Phoenix Landing in 2003. I think I actually like some of the versions of songs from the first album best, but it’s all superb, blissful wash.

Antipop Consortium – Arrythmia

My Rap Heros. The best rap group that’s every existed. The most blatently original and crazy album of hip-hop ever. I’m sorry but who else in hip-hop does this? The weirdness of Mega with the crazy operatic breakdown in the middle? Tron Man Speaks, which has to be the best skit on a rap album ever? Z St, raps over this heavy as F bass wobble that no one has matched since? And freeform flows for days. “I move crowds like Larry Levan; Very advanced; Unbearably Man’s; ArroGANce; Will lead to his downfall…” And Priest has the best voice in hip-hop. Whatever album it is that you think is their best, I defy you to find one where weird raps and beats meld better.

Arovane – Tides

Bliss. Pure and simple. I only had this on vinyl for a long time and used to put it on the stereo as I feel asleep to let it play out the first side, letting my needle play 7 hours of silence for the rest of the night. Worth ruining the needle for. The chunky by simple beats of some of the tracks with the crazy harpsichord thing are haunting, and the beat-less tracks just melt you into oblivion. Arovane could have kept making albums like this for years and I would have bought ever one.

Beck – Guero/Guerolito

Beck’s great. Pure and simple. Saw him in 1997 and was totally blown away. Guero and Guerolito are definitely not his best album, but they are his best of this decade, and totally inspiring pop. It’s amazing too his choice of people to remix his stuff, it’s always just kind of spot on, making Guerolito one of the best remix albums in existence. It’s too bad about his scientology leanings, and the fact that his last two albums haven’t really been that good, but go back and listen to Guero again if you want to be inspired.

Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man – Out of Season

Maybe I’m overindulging my nostalgia for Trip Hop, the first scene I ever really felt a part of, but let me state the obvious. Beth Gibbons can sing. Whether operatic or quite and crooning, this sort of slept on album is her single greatest performance for her voice, and Rustin Man brings out all sorts of characteristics that Geoff Barrows somehow couldn’t. Plus the Tom The Model cover is amazing. It’s a tough work, but if you want to have a good cry, go put this on and marvel.

Boards of Canada – A Beautiful Place Out In the Country

Huh, you say? Well, Music Has The Right came out in the 90s, and while Geogaddi is amazing, it’s not perfect, there are a few slip ups, despite being, of course, awesome. But this? This is perfect. 4 tracks of total tense bliss, Amo Bishop being the greatest under-appreciated BOC track ever. People shrug them off all the time, and yet please listen to this EP and tell me that it’s not the pinnacle of … something … whatever it is that BOC does that no one else can do. I hope they never stop making music.

Chris Bissonnette – Periphery

Not truly groundbreaking like a Music For Airports, but a really special album for me, as was his next one. Just awesome beat-less music that I wrote my entire application to grad school listening to. Kranky had a great if pretty singular decade, and I think this is probably their catalog’s greatest hit.

David Last – The Push Pull

David’s first album is really almost perfect, a chill but beat filled masterpiece that was the pinnacle of The Agriculture’s post Asphodel output. All bloops and dubby playfulness, it’s understated but wonderful, and stands up to years of repeated listening.

Deadbeat – New World Observer

A unique album from a unique voice in electronic music. I actually had Something Borrowed Something Blue here, because in a way it’s a more singular coherent statement of a particular sound that I fell in love with at first listen. But New World pushes the boundaries even further, which I always have to champion, exploring different tempos and different sounds while staying in the same framework. He went downhill after this, to the point where he basically makes boring simplistic techno, but there’s no reason he couldn’t make another album like this. I sure hope he does.

DJ Shadow – The Private Press

Yeah, it’s not Endtroducing. But it’s still freakin’ fabulous. So diverse and crazy and weird. Watching DJ Food playing Walkie Talkie as a blistering rocker was inspirational to me. Trying to take apart the elements of Right Thing is mind-boggling. The heartache of the 8 minute long Blood on the Motorway used to make me think I was seeing ghosts in my old apartment. And You Can’t Go Home Again is this crazy fusion of rock and electro that’s never been equaled. Every moment totally choreographed to perfection.

Easy Star All Stars – Radiodread

The best cover album ever produced. Easy Star are incredible for the faithfulness in which they reproduce an album, and yet blindingly original in the way they add their own spirit to a project. The best voices in Jamaica take on every aching note of Yorke’s magnum opus, and with the Jamaican propensity for cover songs has never been put to better use. Dub + Radiohead = Awesome

Elliot Smith – From a Basement on a Hill

Oh Elliot, how I miss you. I still remember the announcement of his death vividly, cutting me like a knife blade. And while some people might put XO or Either/Or ahead of Basement, both of which came out in this decade, Basement is just epically perfect, and so thick in production that it hinted of a new direction for Smith, so tragically cut off. I wish he was still with us today, I think he might have even been able to top this.

The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics

Another surprise, I bet if anyone mentions Flaming Lips it will be for Yoshimi, which is a great great album, but this just had an epicness that touched me strongly. These are beautiful love songs, great rock songs, and crazy experiments in sonic exploration. And while they seem to have gone down hill with their latest album, Coyne and crew of lovable Okies definitely rocked my world all throughout the decade, and continue to be one of my favorite bands of all time.

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles

LA’s pretty unique. No one touches Steve for singlehandedly creating not just a sound but a whole movement. I love that you can now break the world into Pre Fly Lo and Post Fly Lo, and Los Angeles stands up to repeated listening, getting the balance between crazy beats, syrupy samples, and just pushing cacophonies of noise to a new limit. Here’s to the new face of soul.

Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers

Just a great pop album. Stacy’s Mom, right? This is probably just in there to fully express my love of the short form song, and it’s just one of the albums that got into me and I know all the words too. It sort of tapers off for the last couple tracks, but the first 11 or so are rockers and the best thing to listen to in a car on a hot summer day.

Girltalk – The Night Ripper

OK, I saw Girltalk in ‘04 and was like “This dude is weird, his whole aesthetic is just to play a bunch of mashed together samples, and then take his clothes off”. Little did I realize that he would produce THE definitive statement on what it’s possible to do with NOTHING but music you already know. Yeah, it can be seen as a little gimick-y, but really it’s actually quite forward thinking, having talked to Gregg about how the sample is THE base component of his musical world, as it is mine.

Horsepower Productions – In Fine Style

A lot of these tunes were actually made in 99, but some were from 00 and 01, and this is the definitive statement of Dubstep. Where it all started. Before it morphed into the half-tempo monster that it’s only moving out of these days. A wonderful monster, don’t get me wrong, but man has anyone else equaled the attention to detail while still making the best damn skip-groove tracks to dance to since the golden era of Horsepower? I think not. It still sounds as fresh today as when it came out. “When it comes to music, we are the gorgons.”

Mike Doughty – Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis

Another funny sort of nostalgic selection. Soul Coughing’s three albums would all probably be in my best of the ’90s list if I ever did it, and this is the solo front man+guitar versions of a lot of them plus a several new songs. He’s funny, he’s soulful, his a pop master. And the covers are all just as touching as the originals. Plus it’s cool to me that it was all a bootleg tape.

DJ Panzah Zandahz – Aphids on the Lettuce: Beck Remixed

PZ is kind of amazing. Attacking whole artist catalogs, extracting the best grooves that you always wanted to hear, and then just putting good solid raps overtop of them. The number of times that I’ve played one of his tracks in a club and someone’s run up to me to be like “ah year” is countless. And his work “with” Beck is the single best album of his stuff. This is the other Girl Talk who should be hired to remix anybody he chooses.

Paul Anka – Rock Swings

Yeah, that Paul Anka. Yes, straight Frank Sinatra style swing covers of Rock songs from the 80s and the 90s. There’s something about a great cover that brings out the best of the original, if for no other reason then sometimes you get to actually hear and understand the original lyrics. But Anka, a voice for the ages, created a masterpiece with this and I dare anyone to listen to it and not smile.

Pete Rock – Petestrumentals

Yeah, another stretch kind of. Because this is THE defining sound of the early 90s. It just happened to have been collected in the early 00s. But it’s in here because A) timeless music never gets old and B) I fully support the concept of pulling out the old and recompiling it in a particular way that makes sense. And hell, everyone comes to stuff at different times, and all of this was new to me. Got my first taste of it from DJ Flack’s Blue Beats for Longing mix, which still has to be one of the best mixes of the decade.

Phillip Roebuck – Inertia

I met this man in the 3rd Ave L stop at 1AM, playing this insane contraption and picking the hell out of a banjo. I missed two trains just to hear more, and bought a CD off of him that eventually turned into this. Just perfect, and perfectly original stuff that calls on blues and appalachian roots, and also a healthy dose of punk rock aesthetic. If you don’t know him, check him out please!

The Postal Service – Give Up

Probably one of the only things on here that will be on many other people’s list. But why not, it’s a great touching album that perfectly bridges pop and electronics. You probably have you’re own opinions on it as well, so I’ll just say that I love it too!

Radiohead – Amnesiac/Kid A

OK, I could write a whole post on these two albums, so just some simple facts. One, you can’t tell me that they aren’t really two sides of the same album, because they are. Two, talk about blending electronics and rock. No one’s done it better since. Three, these are the best Radiohead albums every. Better than The Bends of OK Computer. It’s just the way it is, period. Treefingers, You and Whose Army, How to Disappear completely, Everything in its Right Place…. these are some of the most important songs I’ve ever heard.

Ratatat – LP3

I heard a bunch of Queen the other day and realized how influential they must have been on Ratatat, in addition to a bunch of other stuff. Noone makes instrumental rock albums anymore, so they have that one-uped on everyone else, but in addition to that, it’s playful, rockin, chunky, interesting, and quite packed with detail, more so than anyone of their other albums. I’ve still never seen them live, I’ll have to change that.

Rhythm and Sound – Vocals and Versions

Just beautiful dark bliss and a unique take on dub. The highest statement of alterna-dub, that lead to everything that was the fusion of techno and dub that ever came out of Germany and everything from beyond it. A real eye opener to me as to just how many great voices I haven’t heard from Jamaica or elsewhere, and the most wonderful shimmery techno-dub that’s ever been made. They founded an empire in the 90s, and then created their crown jewel this decade.

The Sea and Cake – One Bedroom

Just a great blissed out pop album. Some people find the dudes voice breathy and inane, but really that all just glosses over for me and mixes up into this wonderful stew of hazy bliss. Glittering synths and just heavy enough beats from the super group keep it wonderful from the first to the last note.

Senor Coconut – Around The World

I adore this man. The man with more aliases than anyone else on the planet, and probably produced more must than anyone else in the electronic world. And for some reason he decided that his big project of this decade was going to be reinterpreting stupid pop songs as though done by a salsa/rhumba band, but instead of actually getting a band he would do it all with samplers. And make it sound better than live musicians. This is one of the most pleasing and yet mind-bending albums that’s ever been done.

Stereotyp meets Al’Haca – Phase Three

Stereo and Al’Haca kind of show the other way Rhythm and Sound could have gone, if they weren’t focused on Roots but instead on Dancehall. Amazing tracks here of clinical cleanliness and yet fierce, rough, rugged and raw voices (with a few crooners in there) that took my by storm right as I was first getting into dancehall around ‘03 and ‘04. Both have gone on to do amazing work, but this was a flashpoint for me.

Teleseen – Fear of the Forrest

I raved about Teleseen in the last post so go check it out there, but really it bears repeating that Gabe took all the elements that Rhythm and Sound and Rupture and Stereotyp laid all throughout the decade and came up with the statement of the logical conclusion of all of it in 2009. This is one for the ages.

Tino – Hello Friends

For some inexplicable reason, this album is intimately linked with Rye, New York for me. Don’t ask why. Another landmark in Dub, this is the chunk-y weirdness of Meat Beat cross with the amazing grooves of the Tino project, and it’s best seen as a Trip Hop album that has funk and dancehall in it and just happened to have been produced in the 00s instead of the 90s. Go listen to it again if you haven’t picked it up in a while.

Ulrich Schnauss – Far Away Trains Passing By …

There’s a lot of use of the word Bliss in this post, but really can you think of a better person to apply it to than Schnauss? His output is consistently great over three records, even as it’s turned a little darker, but this was the opening statement that made me and a lot of others fall in love with him. This is a man who deserves to make songs that are longer than 8 minutes, because every note sparkles with life. Again, pick it up again if you haven’t listened in a while.

Wasteland – October

Why does no one see and understand how insanely awesome the Wasteland project was? This was Scud and Isound putting out three insane albums in the 00s, flipping the script both on their old sounds and any genre they could get their hands on, and really preceding Wonky by like 4 years. It’s not for the faint of heart, I think the word gritty was made for an album like this, but damn if it isn’t original.

Yo La Tengo – And Then The Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Shoegazer to the max, this is still just a lovely occurrence of an album… it’s the most pleasing thing ever, and maybe its my southern roots and time spent in the Cat’s Cradle hearing endless variations of Yo La that put me in the right mind state to accept it when it happened. But every track on here still makes me smile and sigh, and probably has been listened to more times than any other album on this list.

VA – Beat Dimenions Vol 1

OK, onto the comps and other weird collections, starting with this, another definitive, life changing statement on Wonky, and also what a really good curated CD can do for someone to introduce them to a scene. Some people on here have become staples of the scene, others I’ve never really heard from again, but it doesn’t matter and this is just a brilliant statement on this sound that is packed with crazy goodness from start to finish.

Joe Gibbs – No Bones For The Dogs

OK, so I just looked. This came out in 97. I thought about changing it to the Discomix series mentioned below, but then I was like, well, no I discovered it this decade, and it doesn’t really make any difference because Brother Joe’s work was done by the 80s. What it was for me was a rediscovery of Dub, beyond what Scientist and Tubby did, to show me that there are many routes to dub, and the warmth of his productions stand the test of time just as well as the other masters. Brilliant.

VA – Nice Up The Dance

Soul Jazz swoops in and gets the best of every scene … but as a DJ I love curators, and lots of these tunes were new to me, and beyond that it’s just an amazing statement of the blurring lines that have always been present between dancehall and hip-hop back to Cool Herc. I still end up playing a Screechy Dan track most hip-hop sets, and I would never have heard of him if it were not for this. J Live, Ward 21, Pompadoo, just a great cross decade selection here.

VA – King Jammy’s: Selectors Choice

Holy Moly, 8 albums of dancehall tunes from the 80s, every single one created by Jammy and almost all instant classics. 8 CDs worth! And that’s probably just a best of. I discovered the beauty of 80s dancehall thanks to Firehouse’s Computer Mastermind mix CDs that have many more undiscovered gems than you’d find here, but this is THE place to start to understand the crazy innovations that were going on in this very early incarnation of the melding of vocals and electronic music.

VA – Grime

Another concert that changed my life. The Rephlex Allstars tour that came through Brooklyn in March of 2004. Plasticman and Mark One playing three straight hours of just instrumental grime dubs. Not a single MC in sight. And this was the compilation of all those tunes. No one before or since has made stuff quite like this, in terms of weird flatness but also complexness, and the difference between the three artists is apparent in repeated listenings. While the second volume set the stage more more of what Dubstep would become, it was the raw originality of this comp that sparked my imagination.

VA/~Scape – Staedtizism Vols 1-3

OMG how much do I love all three of these comps. Another permutation of the dub/techno elision. I wrote a lot of my college thesis about the first volume, it was called Immersive Sound Environments, and the first track on the first comp, Gramm (Jan Jelenik under a different name) is just the most spooky and fantastically wonderfully claustrophobic thing ever. By the time they got to volume three it was a little more hip-hop, and you can hear Kit Clayton also proceeding Wonky by about 5 years, as did Capablack and others on here. Pole’s a master producer and a master curator, and these are a defining sound of this decade.

Mu Allstars – Criminal 1 & 2

Huh? Remember this? Maybe not, but this is where Girltalk, Jason Forrest, and others got their prankster genes from. Just a collection of your favorite cantankerous beat makers flipping the script on various pop tunes and totally wrecking shop on them, in a way that gave everyone else license to go there. And this was long before Ableton made it super easy to do so.

VA – Street Bass Anthems Vols 1-4

Starkey and Dev79, both incredible artists in their own write, curate the best remix series in existence. Going through and listening to it I realize just how chock full of goodies it is, and these are weird ass remixes for sure, proving that there’s a whole crew of us out there who both know and understand what’s up with hip-hop but are willing to go there with the twistup mashup of a song. Plus these were all internet releases, which I appreciated a lot, and it looks like Vol 4, who’s first EP is just out, should be just as good. Bring it Philly.

The Bug’s Catalog

I was trying to think if there was one single album of Kevin Martin’s that was his definitive statement. But really, there wasn’t, for an man who’s completed his second full decade of music making. Pressure, Razor X, London Zoo, and the King Midas Sound project are just the albums, but the singles and remixes standout too, and if taken all together it shows an incredible variety of production from one of the most inquisitive and uncompromising minds of a music generation. A true hero, and, in a proud moment, something of a friend as well.

Rustie’s Catalog

Really? Any one else come close? Not Hud Mo. Not even Fly Lo, for full output. I have a bit of an unfair advantage, having heard some of his original productions as early as 05, but really, in 5 years look at how many heads he’s flipped in so many ways. He just makes music that makes me want to pump my fist and scream “Hells yeah” more than any other artist, and he’s done it all without actually putting out an album. Who else can do that?

Hyperdub 5/The Hyperdub Catalog

The most forward thinking label of the decade. From the very first release, that was completely out of left field, through the retrospective that was just put out, Kode 9 is a another visionary curator who has never compromised a moment in his musical career. He’s an inspiration for me, that one man can have such a musically open mind and attract so many others to him. All while being kind of a huge sourpuss. :) With a heart of gold. I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings for him and the label.

Jahtari/The Disrupt Catalog

The nicest man in music. Period. To stand in the presence of Jan Disrupt is to bask in the warm glow of one of the most pleasant people on the planet. But that it should be correlated with such and incredibly strong and original statement on a sweeping slice of music is frankly stunning. No one else succeeds the way he does at BOTH being a curator of others music and being the strongest thing on his own label. Plus, most of the stuff he just gives away for free! This man has never played in America. That must change in 2010.

The Mashit and Pressup Records Catalogs

An old friend a huge inspiration on the way I DJ, I can’t underestimate the influence of the Mashit catalog on me from its inception. Although now a blog and a different sort of force, the 10 mashit releases and C’s sound and vision are totally who I was musically for a large part of this decade. And Tyler’s now defunct Pressups was the other side of it, both this beautiful fun pure take on Ragga in the ’00s. Every single tune a winner.

Soundmurderer and SK1/The Rewind Records Catalog

And the other side of the ragga movement in the 00s. Just mad as F beats trying to outdo Bizzy B and Remarc and every other beat chopper from 94, all from the man who gave you the glistening electro of Osbourn and the man you more commonly know as Dabrye… say what? Yup, I don’t know how they got it in themselves to take on the project, but they did it better than anyone else. They must have been old junglists like me. Stellar stuff from the beginning to the end of its run.

The Shockout Catalog

Another blindingly eclectic label, this time pushing the boundaries of Dancehall. Kind of started on a whim of 606s just to get some vocals from Jamaica and put beats over them (5 years before Diplo and Switch had the idea), this turned into one of the most influential projects of the this decade, exposing some massively talented artists like Rupture, Shadetek, and Filastine to the larger world, and getting awesome vocals into the hands of anyone who wanted a shot at it. Pure gritty loveliness from start to finish.

The Planet Mu Catalog

Can you deny it? More than Warp, more than Rephlex, it was the decade of Planet Mu. Who knew that the goofball who’s Umer Bile tracks I picked up in 96 and rocked out to would be the best, if most manic, curator of the ’00s. Sheer quantity alone is stunning, and the fact that every genre under the sun is represented, while all of it kind of being the best example of said genre frankly makes my head spin. It’s kind of the Google of the electronic world, and has engendered a bit of backlash in the same way. But really, they just raise the bar for everyone, and I’ll be fan till the run is done. Which I hope is no where in sight.


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