While it wasn’t easy to compile at least 20 electronic-oriented/instrumental hip hop LPs that I fell in love with over 2009 (much less order them according to how much each record resonated with me), the mere idea of even drawing up a list at the end of the year is wince-inducing. There is a lot I haven’t heard; to think about the records I ended up not owning/writing about by this time is to be hugely disappointed, but I’m comfortable in saying that I heard a great deal of stuff. For this series, I hope to recommend what sounded pretty nice on my commutes, or at home, on our stereo. Check in at PopMatters‘ end-year genre features and eventually, their bigger main lists in the coming days — there will be a lot of discussion over there. Below, I’ve tried to sort out a few of my own favorite electronic, etc. albums for 2009.
20. Ethan Rose, Oaks (Holocene Music)
19. Telefon Tel Aviv, Immolate Yourself (Bpitch Control)
18. Lusine, A Certain Distance (Ghostly International)
17. Kate Simko, Music From the Atom Smashers (Ghostly International)
16. Applescal, A Slave’s Commitment (Traum Schallplatten)
Obviously, I found a lot of promo material in my mailbox this year that was unappealing — it was usually more of the stuff you heard so much about, the records with the bigger hype framework supporting them. In my mind, 2009 ushered in a great deal of strong dubstep, beat records, techno, and ambient recordings that I’ll still be digesting for a while.
I posted a while back about Ethan Rose’s Oaks. It’s a tranquil affair, with processed vintage Wurlitzer organ tones at its core. It was a listen-at-work record until I began to notice things about its swirling, shifting surfaces and understated loveliness in general that deserved closer attention. I feel the same way about techno producer/classically trained pianist Kate Simko’s 2009 venture into film scoring with Music From the Atom Smashers.
Aside from its primary purpose as a soundtrack for a documentary about the work that high energy physicists do and the politically meddlesome factors around it, Kate Simko’s Music stands on its own, with warm, organic textures and hypnotic techno pieces. The chimes and distant, disintegrating synths that stir beneath her “Trouble Brewing,” for example (independent of the film that I’ve yet to see), differ notably from the storm suggested by its title. Also on Ghostly International, Lusine’s A Certain Distance is at times precious and wonderfully atmospheric — a blend between crisp, cut-up techno compositions and very melodic pop. I said as much in my September review for Remix Magazine. [EDIT: Remix Magazine is long gone on the Internet. Its content has been folded into Emusician's site, and my Lusine review, for now, seems to have vanished. Click here to see what I said about 'A Certain Distance' when it was released.]
Applescal’s full-length debut for Traum is more scatterbrained than anything in this segment of my top 20. I wrote about A Slave’s Commitment at length for PopMatters. For the LP, the Holland producer turned out a variety of complex techno sounds that incorporate both glitchy rhythms as well as woozy, arpeggiated melodies (“The Forms of Abstract Life” is an ideal example of this venturesome production that, aside from one entry, turns out a mighty high success rate in my opinion).
Immolate Yourself is the third album from Louisiana experimental musician/producers Telefon Tel Aviv, and it’s sadly the last one that member Charlie Cooper was around to see released. Cooper passed away in January of this year, almost precisely when Bpitch Control issued the record. Although darker themes emerge musically and lyrically over Immolate‘s rich and heady 46 minutes, this, as co-founder Josh Eustis has painstakingly noted (“Charlie, in Finality,” July 22, 2009), is unrelated to Cooper’s tragic death. I’m only somewhat familiar with Telefon’s catalog of work, and I immediately found that losing myself in Immolate‘s ambient, densely layered productions — its slender, often shimmering synth pop — was unavoidable.
Some might argue that writing about Immolate Yourself at the end of 2009 is an easier task, that to look back critically upon a piece of work that was assembled by such a revered member of the independent electronic/rock community after some time has lapsed following his abrupt passing is considerably less arduous than it might’ve been at the beginning of the year. Had I prepared some words without the weight of this considerable part of the “story” looming…out…there, it might have been less difficult to look at this as merely a record, and not as a record that was for Charlie Cooper his last. What I can say now is only that I’ve returned to this album frequently for a number of reasons, and that I’m looking forward to spending more time with it in the years to come.
Check back for more thoughts on my favorite electronic and overall albums for 2009.