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Juno Plus: Top 10 albums of 2010

Best Of 2010: Top 10 Albums

Much deliberation, heated debate, banging of fists and vociferous dismissal took place within the walls of Juno Plus before we arrived at the list you see below. 2010 has been a particularly strong year for all strands of electronic music which is more than evident in the surfeit of genres included on this list. Each of these releases however are albums in the truest sense of the word; something you can pop on at home, in the car, wherever, and soak up over its entirety…

10

LUKE ABBOTT
Border Community

As one would expect from a member of the Border Community family, Holkham Drones is a record steeped in melody, gentle yet strong, perfect for at-home headphone escapism. Abbott creates a lush, richly textured soundscape, with similarities to be found in the work of contemporaries James Holden, Allez Allez and Four Tet. It’s utterly relaxing, but never succumbs to the level of mere background music. A distinct lack of crisp instrumentation creates an overall sense of haziness, a feeling heightened by the album sleeve which shows the artist and title name rewritten in several layers – so your eyes have to constantly readjust – while the artwork is equally indecipherable. The music itself is like falling under the spell of one long hallucination: Abbott drenches the glacial beats on opening track “2nd 5th Heavy” beneath a twinkling key melody and hypnotic synth washes. It isn’t until “Whitebox”, three tracks in, that we are snapped out of this narcosis, with an electro swirl that takes us into “The Sky Was Pink” (Holden remix) territory. The moody, aquatic vibe of “Sirens For The Colour” lingers long in the memory, while the ambient fuzz of “Dumb” offers one of the album’s most moving moments, and brings Holkham Drones to twinkling close.

9

TAME IMPALA
Modular Recordings

West Australian band Tame Impala’s rich, earthy blend of psychedelia and bluesy rock struck an immediate chord with us. Kevin Parker’s vocals recall The Beatles’ more hallucinogenic moments, while the fuzzy guitars and raw drums seemingly rise up through a haze of smoke. In truth, Innerspeaker sounds like a love letter to 1969, but that’s no bad thing; there’s no dead wood whatsoever in the first eight tracks, with the extended solos and other self indulgent vices usually linked to psychedelic music eschewed in favour of catchy hooks. Mixed by Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann, tracks like “Desire Be, Desire Go” exude an instant familiarity, while “Lucidity” and “Solitude Is Bliss” offer the album’s strongest lyrical moments. Their links to dance music are also apparent – they are known to cover Blue Boy’s “Remember Me” when playing live, and work closely with fellow Perth-raised producers, Canyons.

8

COS/MES
ESP Institute

Anyone lucky enough to have indulged in one of the COS/MES 12 inches released this year will have been rewarded with a richly sonic experience that sits far beyond the realms of throwaway dance music. The Japanese DJ and production duo of Flatic and 5ive seem to excel in producing riveting electronic music that sits between disco, house and outright psychedelia, and approach each song with the intention of inviting your senses on a twisting journey. In single format, this has a syrupy, spellbinding effect; when utilised over the course of an album, the effect is ten fold. Chaosexotica is certainly one of this year’s most edifying listening experiences, an exotic journey through a surfeit of electronic genres across the span of eleven tracks. Frank Zappa was famously – and wrongly – attributed to the pearl of wisdom that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, but this album certainly reminds us that nothing can replicate the potency that the listening experience provides.

7

MOUNT KIMBIE
Hotflush

Released on Scuba’s influential Hotflush imprint, Crooks & Lovers is an aural delight from start to finish. Both Dom and Kai have been at pains to insist their sound is not dubstep per se – and although this is true, it’s equally apparent that they wouldn’t exist in their current form without having the genre as a base from which to explore their own sonic terrain. From the trademark vocal snatches and playful bleeps of “Would Know” to the twangy guitar line and wonderfully chopped vocal melody on “Before I Move Off”, Crooks & Lovers is as fine an exploration of the post-dubstep world as you’re ever likely to hear. The duo create an atmosphere in which every sound matters, with sparse instrumentation, warm pads and typically delicate vocal refrains. There are highlights aplenty, but the melodic flourish of “Carbonated”, which is just so damn warm and fuzzy it’s ridiculous, stands as one of the finer moments – it’s like dubstep meets R&B meets The xx. A lone snare and sombre guitar brings the album to a thoughtful, beatless close with “Between Time”.

6

ONRA
All City

Onra’s third third LP was all about paying respect to 80s and 90s boogie, soul, funk, hip hop, R&B, disco and electro. Surprisingly, the Parisian does this without a hint of any tongue inserted into any cheek (unlike, say, Chromeo). While Long Distance is a blast from a funkafied past, the French beat maker still has one foot firmly planted in the present by also fusing the kinds of textures and sounds that future funk and leftfield hip-hop producers like DâM-Funk, Hudson Mohawke and Flying Lotus have been bringing to the masses. And when Onra isn’t cutting up sampled R&B vocals to throw on tracks like the standout “Send Me Your Love” or “Oper8tor,” he’s enlisting the help of occasional guest vocalists. T3 from Slum Village reminds us how good the golden age of hip-hop was in “The One”. Olivier DaySoul evokes the spirit of Andre 3000 in “My Mind is Gone” and the spirit of 90s R&B in “Long Distance”. Just go ahead and try not to sing along. Reggie B. brings his smooth voice to “High Hopes,” a standout track that also sounds like a ridiculously addictive ode to 90s R&B, but which is actually a remake of the S.O.S. Band’s track of the same name from 1982. Long Distance is positive proof that good music doesn’t always have to be complex or push any sort of envelopes, and that it’s okay to just be straight up fun.

5

WALLS
Kompakt

Upon first listen to the self titled debut album from Walls, it’s hard not to be struck by the immediacy and sumptuousness of the opening salvo “Burnt Sienna”. The creeping menace that hits when the all encompassing drone emerges out of the cosmiche mist remains in your thoughts as the subsequent seven tracks unfurl. However this is an album whose qualities fully emerge over time, not least the obvious and stunning symmetry that Sam ‘Allez Allez’ Willis and Alessio ‘Banjo Or Freakout’ Natalizia have in the studio. Obvious concessions are made to the forebearers of kraut rock, but this is an album that seeps beyond mere pastiche, with the undulating current of emotive intent that soars in “Soft Cover People” and floats in “Strawberry Sect” truly captivating. It is the former track that yields perhaps the most sensory delight with the ascending guitar refractions that drive the track swamped in a deluge of ethereal synth work, shimmering piano and Natalizia’s spectral hum fully implemented as a melodic element. A truly rewarding debut opus from two talented musicians whose individual capacity for prodigious output is likely to see them remain in our affections for a long time yet!

4

DARKSTAR
Hyperdub

There was much talk ahead of the release of Darkstar’s debut album as to whether the London based outfit could live up to the promise of their stunning breakthrough single “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer” on Hyperdub in 2009. The answer, in short, is yes – and then some. In the course of the past 12 months Aiden Whalley and James Young have morphed from a production team into a band, adding vocalist James Buttery along the way, and North, the fruits of their labour, is a fragile, delicate and beautiful record. Tracks like “Gold” and “”Dear Heartbeat”” showcase an 80s synth pop sensibility, forming the backbone of an album that is steeped in worry and melancholia and has echoes of the Junior Boys finest moments. Buttery’s vocal talents add an extra layer of depth to the music, particularly on the poignant, piano driven opening and closing track “In The Wings” and “When It’s Gone”. Indeed Buttery closes the album singing: “I won’t forget you…” and with North, Darkstar have created a creeper of an album, one that will subtly seduce with each successive listen, and is undoubtedly one of the year’s most unforgettable LPs.

3

JOHN ROBERTS
Dial Records

Listening to the debut album by US producer John Roberts, it’s hard to believe that he is still in his 20s. Usually, it’s the case that such accomplished, detailed works are the result of years spent locked away in the studio, but in this instance, Roberts seems to have arrived out of nowhere with a mature palette. It’s audible from the get-go on opening track “Lesser”, where the sound of a hissing record proves the introduction for plaintive piano keys and raw, dubby beats. A similar musical approach prevails on “Ever or Not”, where a classical piano dominates a gentle house groove and with “Pruned”, a wide-eyed composition populated by rich yet foreboding keys and haunting woodwind, underscored by snappy drums.Roberts tells a fascinating story on the title track, where what sounds like a cello is combined with subtle keys for a gloriously seductive dancefloor burner. Just in case any listener is under the illusion that Roberts is a virtuoso who has suddenly stumbled upon house music, he drops the wigged out acid and clipped drums of “Porcelain”, while his ability to squeeze new sounds and shapes from the long-existing sound is audible on “Dedicated”. Set against the backdrop of lashing rain and rolling thunder, Roberts’ heavy drums rumble in to accompany the kind of melancholic organ solo that only a great like Portable is capable of. That his debut album receives those kinds of comparisons proves that John Roberts is onto something very special.

2

ACTRESS
Honest Jon’s

Darren Cunningham’s 2008 debut Hazyville was a wonderful journey though a myriad of disparate influences, from Detroit techno to glitchy electronica and dubstep. Here we see the Werk Discs chief revisit some of those influences but also tread new ground with his follow up LP, Splazsh. It’s a startling journey: every track on here is worth listening to, digesting, and listening to again. “Lost” is one of the more tender moments on the album, with a female vocal draped over a rolling synth line and metallic snare. “Bubble Butts & Equation” would be the perfect theme song should the world come to as sudden and messy end, while “Always Human” has the squelchy leftfield techno sound of Anthony Shake Shakir. “Maze” is one of the album’s true highlights, a stunningly simple piece that shows how beautiful electronic music can be when stripped back to its bare bones, while the broken beat of “Purrple Splazsh” once again shows Cunningham’s deft touch with sampling. Even the weird, experimental tracks toward the end are deliciously rich and textured, including the superbly titled “Supreme Cunnilingus”. With so many ideas crammed into 14 songs it’s a wonder Cunningham has ended up with such a perfect little album, but he most certainly has.

1

CARIBOU
City Slang

Dan Snaith is impossible to second guess; since his emergence on the Leaf label as Manitoba with Start Breaking My Heart in 2001, every subsequent release has veered in differing musical directions, with a craft and mastering of music that has gained him an ever increasing fan base. Flash forward nine years and Snaith presents Swim, album number 5. “Odessa”, the opening track, is the culmination of what happens when you throw together a mid nineties piano house line, some vocals remarkably reminiscent of Erlend Oye, a suitably bouncy bassline and the sound of a chicken being strangled. What follows is that most strange of things, a consistently brilliant dance album from a producer you would not normally associate with house and minimal techno. Previous interviews with Snaith have seen him disclose a love for Border Community boss James Holden, and that much is in evidence throughout, most notably on “Sun”, where crashing jazz percussion melds into an amazing throb of techno bliss. It’s easy to focus on the music, brilliant as it is, and not fully appreciate the vocals, for the most part sung by Snaith himself in that familiar Oye-esque voice and focusing mostly on the dynamics of relationship. Our album of the year.

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  5. Wavatar MissRuckus says:

    Agree with Andy that I’m surprised Scuba is missing from the list.

    Some good albums there though!

  6. Wavatar HD says:

    I think that if you were to package these 10 up and price them right, you may get some takers…just sayin’ as well :)

  7. Wavatar AndyS says:

    Good list. On the money for the most part, although I would have had Scuba ahead of Darkstar and Mount Kimbie…just sayin

  8. Wavatar Pinky says:

    No Ariel Pink’s Haunted Gaffiti’s Before Today?
    This is wrong, sooo wrong

  9. Wavatar Kami75 says:

    Nice top.

    Onra should be first imo. massive album.

  10. Wavatar seBb says:

    Onra not on the top 3 = epic failure!

  11. Wavatar Ludouze says:

    Woot really nice Top10 but Onra should be first 😉