Electronic Year in Review 2005

Electronic Year in Review 2005
Though he came across as an aging, know-it-all hipster whose status was slipping away in 2002's "Losing My Edge" single, James Murphy comes across so modest over the phone from his New York studio it's almost suspicious. He admits he was also quite shy and clandestine when it came to recording this album. He may be one half of über hip production team DFA, it was with his half that he recorded most of LCD Soundsystem. "It's a lot easier producing your own music, except for the vocals. I just try to get rid of everybody. It would be a nightmare to produce me because I need to get rid of everybody to play everything myself," Murphy confesses. "The only tough part really is sitting there doing the vocals. It's terrible and a humiliating experience." His humiliation proved to be our stimulation, as LCD Soundsystem provided the year with a well-rounded dance record that was heavy on DFA's punked-out disco ("On Repeat") and spacey house ("Too Much Love"), and didn't forget to throw in some psychedelic come-downs ("Great Release") for the after-party. "Albums to me are not collections of singles and I like a lot of different kinds of music. I wanted it to feel like an album because when you have good, nice structures it's not just being formless," says Murphy.

To our lucky surprise he did both. Not only were we treated to his fresh batch of carefully considered new material, but also included on a second disc are the killer singles and their flipsides that earned him the role of new hip priest. Murphy is quick to point out "the singles were released to be singles, and that's it." Knowing this only makes disc two an even more fascinating listen, considering it's not only as strong as the first disc, but it also flows as if it was designed to be an album all along. From the opening radio noise of his still-relevant-it-hurts debut, "Losing My Edge," through both versions of the brilliant "Yeah" to the closing, drugged out '80s funk of "Yr City's A Sucker," Murphy is actually responsible for 2005's two best electronic records. "Some people like music because it just blows their mind. Like when you're a kid you find a record and it makes you feel that if you get out of this town it won't be so horrifying," Murphy says. "That's incredible. It saves people's lives. It totally made me a different person, punk rock did." As did LCD Soundsystem, despite the fact that it would make Murphy blush if you told him that. Cam Lindsay

We Are Monster (Playhouse)
German abstract house artist Rajko Müller, or Isolée, has been on the scene since 1996, when Playhouse released his "System" twelve-inch. Isolée's second full-length album, electro-disco-influenced We Are Monster pleasantly defied expectation by interpreting the current trends through Müller's ears. Grinding bass and deep rhythms are punctuated by monster guitars that rip through the mix and make Monster an awesome album that is destined to be a classic. Marinko Jareb

The Milk of Human Kindness (Domino)
Milk is a dizzyingly eclectic collection of electronic and hip-hop music that places Caribou in the same ranks as DJ Shadow. The dreamy textures of songs like "Yeti" and "A Final Warning" are capable of making your blood soar, while the soul and R&B of "Subotnick" and "Barnowl" are an enjoyable, unexpected touch. The beats come hard on the brilliant "Lord Leopard" and the laidback "Pelican Narrows," while "Drumheller" is another example of Dan Snaith's interest in varied sounds. Whatever he calls himself, Caribou's shit is tight and this is a classic. Vish Khanna

Let Us Never Speak of It Again (Kranky)
As the disco-punk sound continued to inform dance and pop music all over the world, one of its chief originators, Bay Area quintet Out Hud, moved on from their early '80s New York lovin' roots to worship mid-'80s New York. This translates to a little more pep and sprite behind Out Hud's esoteric groove. This previously instrumental band of innovators took a bold step forward on their sophomore album that proves they're no one-album wonder. Kevin Hainey

Less Than Human (DFA)
John (Juan) Maclean's music career began in the early '90s with post-punk number Six Finger Satellite. Maclean was deftly tracked down by SFS sound engineer James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) who thankfully prompted him to begin making original synth-washed funked-up electro-dance-punk that wobbles with thick and dirty bass lines. Yet Less Than Human is crafted with live instrumentation, giving Maclean's sound a raw punch. "Dance With Me," the last track of the album, is an epic dance floor anthem stretching out to a lovely and self-sustaining 14 minutes featuring guest vocalist Nancy Whang of LCD. Cream of the crop for the dance meets post-punk movement. Stephanie Kale

Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
Kieran Hebden's last album, Rounds, was critically acclaimed by almost every major journal. Hoping for something incredible to follow it up, Everything Ecstatic didn't disappoint. A step away from the virginal sound of Four Tet past, Hebden managed to create more intricate beats, more experimental timbres and blend more sinister moods with ambient textures. Everything Ecstatic is a breathtaking album for being everything that Four Tet was before while moving forward without boundaries. Rob Woo

OK Cowboy (Pias)
Blasting off in a burst of Euro-disco synths, Frenchman Pascal Arbez-Nicolas thankfully fulfilled the promise of early singles with this acid-drenched electro-tech debut. Melding guitar rave-ups, analogue oscillations and down'n'dirty keyboard lines with four-on-the-floor foot stompers, this is purpose-built for putting hands-in-air. Hell, Monsieur Vitalic's maximalist manifesto works so hard to bring dance music back to its pre-millennial peak-hour euphoria it might as well have come pre-packaged with a whistle and glow sticks. OK Cowboy's brain-boiling 3 a.m. rush sounds as timeless as the break of dawn. Fuck Daft Punk, Vitalic is playing at my house. Joshua Ostroff

The Campfire Headphase (Warp)
The incredible Scottish duo finally return with a gorgeous effort that will have you reminiscing about a romantic getaway up north or a childhood trip to summer camp. Incredibly slow and lush melodies, mysterious wobbly guitar loops and the sounds of crashing waves all add to the warm aural experience that seems so simple for others to execute yet is truly a daydream.The Campfire Headphase would be their musical masterpiece if they hadn't already released one. Noel Dix

Anniemal (Vice)
On paper, it sounds like a recipe for pop piffle — super-cute Norwegian blonde singing chirpy platitudes over an icy-cool disco beat — but luckily DJ/producer Annie's debut was as whip-smart as it was dance-floor worthy. Reeling off bubbly hit after hit, Anniemal infected even the jaded hipster set with its ear worms. Giddy, breezy fun that pushed the boundaries of electro by throwing a big, knowing wink in the direction of pop. Tabassum Siddiqui

10. MUNK
Aperitivo (Gomma)
Munk's Aperitivo hit shelves way back in February, but few full-length electronic albums have proven so stylistically eclectic yet consistently enjoyable since. The duo of Mathias Modica and Jonas Imbery weave electro-house through the '70s AM radio dial, post-punk through the disco lights and Italo thumps through the Teutonic crunch to come up with this one. Even though it features a long cast of heavy hitters, Aperitivo never sounds like it's giving in to its guests. Dimitri Nasrallah

Ten Best Singles
This should be remembered as the year techno found its footing again and club-bound singles got tired of chasing down the biggest hooks and most monolithic beats. Whereas electro-house and the neo-acid revival took centre stage for most of last year, this year's best singles were lean, minimal, funky, and slightly psychedelic. Here's a snapshot of what this year's dance floors had on offer.

1. Matias Aguayo and Michael Mayer Slow (Kompakt Pop)
Nothing quite sounds like Aguayo and Mayer at their best. This year didn't get any better than this off-the-cuff Kylie Minogue cover. Cavernous Brazilian rhythms, throbbing low-ends, and snarled vocals equals one-of-a-kind.

2. Audion Just Fucking (Roman Flugel mix) (Spectral)
Matthew Dear's 2005 version of techno was lubed, perverted, and right on target. On the remix, Alter Ego's Roman Flugel wove in a subtle melody to take the track to a whole other level.

3. Mathew Jonson Return of the Zombie Bikers (Wagon Repair)
After a massive 2004, the fat riffs'n'break beat combo of "Zombie Bikers" was proof that the Vancouver producer's talents were not about to run dry.

4. Konrad Black & Ghostman Medusa Smile (Rocket's revamp) (Wagon Repair)
Vancouver's Konrad Black (aka Circlesquare) remixed his own irreverent, minimal acid-squelcher and came up big with this DJ fave.

5. Trentemoller Sunstroke (Poker Flat)
There's a touch of Screamadelica-era Primal Scream buried in the strung-out minimal soul of this floor-crasher from one of 2005's hottest newcomers.

6. Mossa Slavery When Wet (Orac)
Montreal's latest techno whiz started making serious international waves with this churning, propulsive update of the micro-house sound. He's one to keep an eye on.

7. The MFA Overhang (Bpitch Control)
Ellen Allien's Bpitch imprint issued a crateful of solid beats this year, but few came close to the cool neo-trance of the MFA.

8. Baxendale I Built This City (Michael Mayer remix) (Kompakt Pop)
It doesn't matter who Baxendale are, because once Cologne's Michael Mayer went to work here, he turned it into one of the biggest club fillers he's ever had.

9. black dice Smiling Off (Luomo remix) (DFA)
Finnish producer Luomo holds onto the Black Dice name for the credits, but little else. This loose house track is the closest he's come in the past five year to his classic Vocalcity album.

10. Unai Oh You and I (Disco Inc.)
After 2003's impressive "I Like Your Style," Swedish producer Unai returns with a vocal-house treasure for Frankurt's fledgling Disco Inc. imprint.
Dimitri Nasrallah