À la Chart

This year's crop of electronic music seemed more concerned with looking in than locking in. For the most part top producers haven't seemed as worried about innovation as connotation. It's been a year of cobbling together old genres rather than molding new ones, and there's a definite trend toward composing music better suited for close listeners than mass lifestylers. The question of whether dynamics or dynamos triumph on the dance floor in 2006 will be a wild hair to split 365 days from now. For the time being, here's a survey of the past year's most mazy albums to mull over.

Isolée, Wearemonster (Playhouse): What is this we in the title of Rajko Müller's sophomore full-length under the name Isolée? Does Müller roll in the royal plural? Is he as schizophrenic as the gooey melodies of Wearemonster? Or did he just know we'd have a monster critical hit on our hands when he released this five years-in-the-making disc? Even as songs progress with the resolute oscillations of Chicago house, they digress into orotund dovetails adhering Kraut-rock and Kompakt techno to flitting eight-bar excursions with pliable chord progressions.

Jamie Lidell, Multiply (Warp): Lidell's sophomore full-length stands out by wholly embracing the human end of the spectrum, sounding like a reverent, soul-crooning tribute to Motown and Stax Records. Only on repeat listens do you begin to recognize the nuances of the mischievous, intricate embroidery threaded throughout his silky façade. This digitally flecked funk is as much about strutting elation as it is about Princely vamping electronics.

Ellen Allien, Thrills (Bpitch Control): Cranes like watchtowers dotted the Berlin of the Nineties, and these uneven (re)building blocks influenced the music of many German producers such as Bpitch Control label head Ellen Allien. Allien's third full-length exhibits a similar uneasy tug, swept by nervy synths atop cleft percussion. Melancholic and overdriven, existing between the Bpitch label's splenetic and kinetic strains of techno and electro, Thrills sometimes seems more concerned with headroom than main room, yet Allien's frosty austerity never overwhelms the CD's galvanic sweat-beaded contortions.

Dominik Eulberg, Kreucht & Fleucht (Mischwald): For every musical genre there is a formative tipping point, an album that says almost more about the movement than it does about actual, well, movement. Kreucht & Fleucht, a digitally etched double-CD mix by German producer Dominik Eulberg, may well be that collection for "ketaminimal" house. Two discs — loosely translated as Crawling and Flying — feature artists like Alex Smoke, Trentemller, Nathan Fake, Robag Wruhme, Luciano, and Wighnomy Bros. The mix explores the phantasmagorical state of German underground dance — a haunted friction of clarity and clatter.

Ewan Pearson, Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Volume 1 (Soma): Though increasingly rare, all the great mix CDs have that moment when physiology and melody synchronize; these mixes don't differentiate between Balearic, Italo, arpeggiated, and merely stabbing because your body doesn't distinguish between the beats once they're incessantly jackin'. On Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi British expat producer Ewan Pearson achieves this peak-hour concurrence, establishing an electro-funk lockstep he draws out for more than an hour without drawing it thin. International remixers including Joakim, Serge Santiago, Random Factor, Riton, Mugwump, and Pearson himself establish an exquisite, percolating thrust oscillating between glistening and sleazy.

Marc Leclair, Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes (Mutek): It's been a tough couple of years for purists. The machinist proponents of IDM and clicks 'n' cuts no longer hold the cachet they once did; how can they when there are sassy new idioms such as heroin house and microgoth to sway people's attention toward the dance floor? With these crumpled textures, Marc Leclair (a.k.a. Akufen) edged out Monolake's Polygon Cities as the year's finest example of transmogrifying tonality, electrostatic topography, and halo-pocked ultrasounds. This is a clear sign there is still a viable vocation in spatial relations.

Richie Hawtin, DE9: Transitions (Novamute): Berlin-based, Canadian-bred techno producer Richie Hawtin sees his track selections as not only a collection of X but also of Why. Why be constricted to a CD's 74 minutes and stereo separation? While tracking DE9: Transitions, Hawtin asked that very question, and using Ableton Live software, he rendered an immersive affair that at times blasts out up to six simultaneous tracks. The result is never knotty, especially on the 96-minute surround-sound DVD, which also features a short film documenting Hawtin's technical accomplishment.

The Remote Viewer, Let Your Heart Draw a Line (City Center Office): Admit it, you already assume every electrocoustic arrangement is the work of some isolated geek with a keyboard in a hushed huddle. So it's nice to come across "electronic" music so unabashedly the work of geeks using a mike as confessional/conduit in their bedrooms. This melancholic soft-focus folktronica — the work of Craig Tattersall and Andrew Johnson, founding members of blip-bliss postrockers Hood — is a series of rich, resonant Múm-like tones loosely sketched from piano, bass, and guitar that palpitate even as they dissipate. Fragile as tundra grass, Let Your Heart Draw a Line features crackly drifts of drowsy sighs and bleary blinks that conjure a sepia-toned vulnerability.

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Tony Ware

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