Outernational Year in Review 2004

Outernational Year in Review 2004
Gran Hotel Buenos Aires (Eighteenth Street Lounge)
Federico Aubele would be the first to admit the main reason we've heard him is his connection to Washington, DC lounge lizards Thievery Corporation. But that's not why we like him — and besides, they're all-star tastemakers for a reason and were damn smart to sign this unknown Argentinean producer on the strength of an unsolicited demo. Soon Aubele was sipping cocktails in their Eighteenth Street Lounge and recording in the backroom studio, rooting the entire album around his mesmerising guitar playing and flying over a few female friends to sing the Spanish-language vocals.

"I'm not interested in doing orthodox electronic music," Aubele says simply, noting the down-tempo hip-hop beats and dub-inspired effects were the only non-organic ingredients. "Electronics is just one more element to play with."

Though he has since relocated to Barcelona, Aubele's debut, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires, expertly conjures up the "sound of the streets" of his home city, bringing Argentinean folk music into the future with an intuition that can only come from someone who was most likely conceived after a parental tango.

"My approach to Argentina music, and to Latin music in general, is the approach of someone who was born and lived there and had it in their ear," he says. "It's not necessarily better, it's just different." Well, after listening to a million globaltronica albums filled with "ethnic" samples, sometimes it is better. Aubele is set to start recording his sophomore effort this January, so we'll soon see if Gran Hotel started a lasting affair or just a one-night stand. Joshua Ostroff

Outernational Sound (Eighteenth Street Lounge)
I must confess: I found this album through the speakers of a major chain store. The 20 short tracks shopping the soul and funk spectrum with a global touch are undeniably solid yet svelte. Tracks deftly swivel and flow around one another as the funk base braids into breaks, funky lounge house, reggae sitar accents and Japanese sentiments. It's the global touch for the funky bunch. Melissa Wheeler

Who Is This America? (Rope-A-Dope)
Afrobeat's hardest working soldiers offer up a brash, sexy and very confrontational record that takes the Fela sound to new layered and textured ground. Always pushing their signature groove to higher limits with eyes wide open and voices shouting in protest, Who is This America? is Antibalas's answer to the many questions left behind in big bomb craters around the world. Sergio Elmir

Exploring the Dangers Of (Roir)
New York-based Dub Trio have crossover potential in the best sense of the word. Not only do they interpolate classic motifs of reggae's past into their sound, they can also lay down convincing dancehall riddims. Their pared-down sound, heavy effects and spiky guitars overtop of rolling bass should find favour with post-punk revivalists. This isn't just studio trickery — the live tracks on this disc show just how well they rock a crowd. David Dacks

Fire Blender (M)
Easily the strangest and most creative dub album of the year. It's amazing that Little Tempo had no distribution outside of Japan before this disc. Kudos to Twilight Circus's M Records for dropping the self-described "King Tubby meets Sun Ra" on an unsuspecting public. Steel pan, clarinets, vintage electronics, lap steel and bedrock dub grooves lashed together with post On-U sound dub tactics are absolutely mind-melting fun. David Dacks

World Party
Compilations continue to play a vital role in exposing outernational sounds.
Here's a small sampling of the best of 2004.

Electric Gypsyland (Six Degrees)
Bucovina Club (Essay)
One new wrinkle on the dance floors of Europe is the popularity of Roma and Balkan sounds, remixed or straight-up. Electric Gypsyland, Six Degrees' best release this year, represents the former; Bucovina Club is a subtle and effective blend of originals into remixes.

Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Sublime Frequencies)
A broad survey of the sound of Myanmar, a truly odd collision of lo-fi electronics, screechy vocals, fuzzy guitars, and filmic flourishes.

Soul Of Brazil (EMI)
Urban Brazil (Sterns)
The various artists roundup of EMI's stupendous Soul of Brazil reissue series of baroque and groovy discs from the '60s and '70s is a scorcher. Urban Brazil is its modern day counterpart — the current state of Brazilian groove, from electro-samba to dub to hip-hop.

Dub After Time (BSI)
Alas, 2004 saw West coast dub label BSI close its doors, but not before leaving us with one last shot of wildly varied riddims, from roots to techno steppers with plenty of illbience in between.

Quisqueya en el Hudson: Dominican Music in New York (Smithsonian Folkways)
The Beat of the Boroughs series continues to explore the music of the world within the communities of New York City. Starting with merengue and going far beyond, it's another scholarly and fascinating release from Smithsonian Folkways.
David Dacks