Frequencies: Year in Review 2009
Published Nov 22, 20091. Junior Boys
3. Neon Indian
4. Fever Ray
5. Memory Tapes
6. Fuck Buttons
7. Buraka Som Sistema
8. Moritz Von Oswald Trio
1. Junior Boys Begone Dull Care (Domino)
A solid 18 months in the making, Begone Dull Care had all the makings of a letdown working against it. Junior Boys had already delivered one of the more memorable one-two punches of the electro-pop decade with their first two albums, and one-half of the duo got married and moved to Berlin in the interim. Instead, silk-throated crooner Jeremy Greenspan and producer Matt Didemus turned in a convincing artistic statement that saw them refine their pop sensibilities while owning up to their club underpinnings like never before. Looking back, the cues were all there in the remix work for their second album, whose single "Like a Child" turned into a Grammy-nominated remix by Carl Craig. As a result, Greenspan says, Begone "is a slightly dancier record in some respects. We had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do rhythmically with this record."
The beats make all the difference. Now fully operational as an international act with a wider sphere of influence and high-profile DJ mixes under their belts, Junior Boys pushed their Hamilton sensibilities and set new standards for the energy pouring out of the speakers. "Matt lives in Berlin," says Greenspan, "so the feeling of Berlin permeated a little bit that way, where the experience of going to clubs is a better experience than other places, in my opinion, than the clubs I go to elsewhere."
Most importantly, Greenspan and Didemus' version of dance music holds its own in a very crowded arena of talented producers. Begone Dull Care bucks all going trends and retains its own distinct sense of funkiness. It's a feat the boys are proud of. "We have enough confidence in what we're doing that we don't question that kind of thing," says Greenspan. "We've never been in danger of that. Of all the things we've been in danger of, we've been in danger of not being marketable enough." Firmly off on the own path, Junior Boys proved in 2009 that they have it in them to raise the bar higher, if for no one else but themselves.
2. Bibio Ambivalence Avenue (Warp)
In the 1960s, NASA scientist James Lovelock introduced the Gaia hypothesis, proposing the earth as a super-organism. Stephen Wilkinson's fourth LP (and second of 2009) Ambivalence Avenue channels the essence of Dr. Lovelock's theories into glorious LP form. The stuttering samples that drive "S'vive" sounds truly gorgeous only when paired with the dusty guitar sprawl of "The Palm of Your Wave," just as the heartbreaking beats of "Cry! Baby!" complements the gentle machinery of "Dwrcan." Ambivalence Avenue connects with the listener because it surrounds itself with the same fusion of splendour, density, calamity and bliss found inside each of us.
3. Neon Indian Psychic Chasms (Lefse)
What started out as penance for a missed acid trip with his good friend soon blossomed into a full-on project for Alan Palomo. Joined by Alicia Scardetta, a visual artist and the acid user in question, Neon Indian became an outlet for Palomo's warped retro symphonies. Psychic Chasms sounded as though it was recorded to cassette and then baked in the sun for the last 23 years. The wonky synths arpeggiate and bubble, the loose beats wander and the micro-samples flutter around Palomo's nostalgic tongue. It all sounds fortuitously misshapen, but that's the beauty of it.
4. Fever Ray (Mute)
Starting as a simple solo project from the Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson, Fever Ray took on a life of its own, both aurally and visually. Not only did the Swede's self-titled debut deliver some of the year's most beautifully bizarre tracks ― each packaged with stark and dark synths, spooked-out atmospheres and world-influenced rhythms ― but she erected an entire fantasy world through an equally stunning video series and live show. With images of wolfmen witch doctors, sea shamans and marsh-dwelling skeletons, Fever Ray grew from a record into a stunning full-on experience.
5. Memory Tapes Seek Magic (Acephale)
Dayve Hawk, an artist of many monikers, picked the perfect one for his eclectic bunch of fuzzy electro epics. Throughout the entire album you can hear Hawk prodding his own interior memory regarding what type of music gets his neurons firing. Whether it be splashes of disco, soft pop or house, Hawk's quest to recapture wistful moments of kismet and happiness is as beguiling as it is exciting. His repackaged and reprogrammed nostalgia trip is one you deserve to be on.
Read an interview with Memory Tapes here.
6. Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport (ATP)
Wisely allowing their inner pop artists to burn beneath the churning sea of gurgling, buzzing and skittering synths, tweaked loops and thumping tribal beats, Fuck Buttons' sophomore stab is a more welcoming listen than their debut. Tarot Sport unspools like cinematic anthems from a dreamscape, mid-tempo pulses riding cresting waves of glassy modulating white noise. Strong melodic backbones contain and guide the formless mania that can alienate the uninitiated experimental noise music listener. Unabashed but well obscured appreciation for pop song writing makes this the perfect musical gateway drug.
Scott A. Gray
7. Buraka Som Sistema Black Diamond (Fabric)
Credited with thrusting progressive Kuduro into the spotlight and introducing the African/European percussive hybrid to North America, Buraka Som Sistema's bracing album Black Diamond, with its radically infectious single "Sound of Kuduro," and a little help from fellow advocate M.I.A., have embed themselves in foreign markets and changed the way Angolan-rooted Kuduro is perceived. With their unabashed dissection of social and political discord at home and abroad, coupled with Black Diamond's brash, grimy, percussion-laden sound ― a collision of new school electro grit and old world Angolan Kuduro ― Buraka's immeasurable presence across the globe was only a matter of time.
8. Moritz Von Oswald Trio Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon's)
Three of techno's most polished sonic sculptors have come together lending their collective voices to the Moritz Von Oswald Trio. Max Loderbauer, Moritz Von Oswald and Vladislav Delay provide their signature sounds to Vertical Ascent creating four live electronic performances rich with human-guided control, which touch on every conceivable area of the frequency range. The trio effortlessly plant soft, primal percussion with vast, detailed landscapes that grow and modulate as if each track is a dreamlike creature from a far off land. Reverberations infused with such detail and life could only be conjured by the aggregate minds of techno's most innovative teachers.
9. 2562 Unbalance (Tectonic)
Moving beyond his dubstep fan base with his sophomore release, 2562 continues his explorations into mutant swing. Somehow balancing icy synth pads, cascading drums and undulating bass frequencies, 2562 avoids falling into the de rigeur wobble-and-snare trap that has become a holding pattern for too many artists. There are numerous moments where you just don't know what he's getting at until it all thrillingly falls into a groove that pushes and pulls like the best West African dance sounds. If "funk" has evolved into an abstract concept where shuffling yet springy beats are key, 2562 is a funkmaster supreme.
10. Martyn Great Lengths (3024)
Dutch producer Martyn came out strong in 2009 with his debut album Great Lengths, an hour-long journey through the grey space between dub-techno minimalism, drum & bass roots, and bass intensity. This year in bass music was defined producers clearing the hurdle of dubstep and heading in new directions, and after a killer '08 on the singles front pioneering that venture, Martyn makes a wise move by pulling away altogether from dubstep's sidelines to turn in a junglist's love affair of an album that breaks rules and also genuinely "works" as a whole package.