By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
Jack Dangers: Hello Friends (Shadow). Toasted, nicely toasted. Lifting a quote from Jack Dangers' highly entertaining mix CD Hello Friends, toasted seems to be the best way to enjoy the fifteen-track opus from the legendary breakbeat master behind Meat Beat Manifesto. Though MBM isn't quite dead, it's clear Dangers's attention has been focused on the dub leanings of Tino Corp. Hello Friends is comprised of previously released tracks on vinyl from Dangers, Tino, Ben Stokes's DHS, and Mike Powell. The result, while not necessarily technically perfect, is a beat fiend's wet dream, as Dangers slides effortlessly from the mambo-fused "Tropical Soul/Tino's Beat" to the tongue-in-cheek head-nodder "Christmas in Hawaii" or the gleaming Latin groove of "Kick It Dub" (featuring a hilarious sample from Charlie's Angels). Don't miss Cuban maestro Tino and his amazing drumming abilities on the bonus video track! What a joy!
Richie Hawtin: DE9: Closer to the Edit (Minus/NovaMute). Richie Hawtin has been at the forefront of confronting new technology since debuting in the early 1990s with FUSE and his most well-known moniker, Plastikman. His sparse and mechanical sound influenced many producers, emphasizing space and substance over predictability by de-emphasizing melody. Yet his recent material has seemed more about technical skill than substance. But on DE9, Hawtin raises the bar for himself and all electronic musicians with a jaw-dropping mix CD that brings back the subtle funkiness of his early material with an intricate yet minimal 21st-century flair. DE9 is attracting headlines because of a new technology called Final Scratch, which enables the user to "play" a digital music file via a specially made blank vinyl record. Featuring 31 actual "tracks" from a slew of Detroit artists, the album actually contains hundreds of loops and snippets from more than 100 tracks by artists such as Carl Craig, Theorem, Basic Channel, Stewart Walker, and many others. The result is an amazingly complex album that is still seeping into my brain months after its release.
Herbert: Bodily Functions (!K7/Soundslike). The trend of the year was taking sampling to the next level by using unconventional sounds such as surgery, random conversations, and breaking plastic. On Bodily Functions, Matthew Herbert marries unlikely field recordings with warm and inviting jazz arrangements (using such live instrumentation as piano, stand-up bass, clarinet, violin, flute, and trumpet) and thumping house beats amidst a recurring theme about human interaction. The result is one of the most uniquely satisfying albums of the year. Indeed, Dani Siciliano's luxurious vocals provide the perfect counterpart to Herbert's sensuous, propulsive music. If nothing else, this is a great way to introduce jazz snobs to electronic music.
Ursula Rucker: Supa Sista (!K7). This was the triumphant year for spoken -word goddess Ursula Rucker, as she moved from being a well-known talent in her native Philadelphia to a full-blown international star. Previously best known for her stirring and troubling poems that closed the last two Roots albums, Rucker eliminates a predisposed aversion to spoken word with the raw, emotive album Supa Sista. Combining forces with several producers (including 4 Hero's Dego McFarlane, Jonah Sharp, King Britt, Alexkid, and Philip Charles), Supa Sista seethes with anger and fury as Rucker addresses tough social topics such as domestic violence, poverty, drug abuse, racism, and sexism. Her eloquent vocals are accentuated thanks to the album's spare production, combining hip-hop, jazz, drum and bass, and soul in a smooth style that never overpowers Rucker's forthright intonations.
Slicker: The Latest (Hefty). This album by Chicago's Slicker (John Hughes, who also runs the Hefty label) is a crackly noise-trip of supernova proportions, set at armchair impulse power speed. Taking a side-door exit from the post-rock experimental world of his previous work, Slicker here gravitates toward a downbeat, abstract blend of digital and organic musical matter that fluctuates between IDM, glitch, and 21st-century jazz. Featuring guest appearances from the cerebral electronic duo Matmos (on the nimble "Swap Track") and other Hefty labelmates, The Latest challenges the listener through a series of minimal shifts in time and tone, creating an aural atmosphere that's refreshingly chilly and spatial. --Tim Pratt