Hangover Records

Records worth hanging on to, for Auld Lang Syne

Techno Beat
Aphex Twin: Drukqs (Warp/Sire). Richard James is one strange fellow. The British producer does his damnedest to scare away potential listeners, but he still manages to command a sizable audience that hangs on every menacing metallic synthetic fragment, scattershot break beat, placid soundscape, and irreverent vocal he can toss up. While some critics, citing a lack of cohesion, have suggested Drukqs is merely James's way of clearing out his hard drive of all his old material (and that may be true), I think the album's multifaceted sides are more a reflection of the wide range of emotions James tackles through his music. This is by no means an easy or comfortable album. James's penchant for hyper-hysterics runs rampant on several tracks. Yet there are plenty of tracks that consist solely of pensive piano playing and ethereal pulsars, reminiscent of his early work. The more I listened to Drukqs, the more I liked it.

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

Flip Expectations
Buck 65: Man Overboard (Anticon). There was a deluge of eccentric, polysyllabic white-boy rapper records this year, and many of them were well worth the money. I do have reservations about the obscurantism that seems to motivate their lyrical approaches -- too many WPMs (words per minute) and opaque references. Buck 65 gets my vote for enunciating clearly and making his clever wordplay meaningful. Any emcee who can eulogize his mother who died recently of breast cancer and not sound corny gets mad props in my book. He also scratches like a DMC champ, samples Metallica, and declares, "I can't wait until the day I ride around in rocket cars/Wear short-sleeved shirts/And all I eat is chocolate bars." The Anticon label has been accused of making rap safe for the alternative rock crowd -- I say bring on the thrift-store sweaters and shoegazing. Emo-hop deserves its time to shine, and might prove to be the ideal antidote for victims of rap's platinum-poisoning epidemic.
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