William Basinski - 92982
(April 27) (2062) (Myspace)
RIYL: Brian Eno, Tape Music, breathing
Sound artist William Basinski became a superstar of the ambient music world with his Disintegration Loops 4-cd series of 2004. Chronicling the decay of decades old tape loops as Basinski attempted to remaster and digitize the originals, the music that resulted was hours that somehow touched everyone who listened to it. It also became the unofficial tribute music for 9/11. I love those compositions and since then I have tried to acquire any and all of Basinski's music I can. His long-form pieces have been my go-to bedtime music for years. 92982 is Basinki's first of two releases from 2009. Due to the fact that of the 4 tracks on this release, two are previously composed pieces from the 80s, one is an 80s composition redone and one is a shortened version of a recent piece, the album title is likely a reference to the date it indicates. Let me state that there are better and more engaging/interesting ambient albums that were released this year, this is Basinksi being Basinski. Simple piano chords looped endlessly, fuzzy ambience permeating the recording, the sounds of NYC sprinkled throughout. It's not perfect, it's not his best work, but it still had an effect on me. He seems to have a knack for that. In times of stress, it's nice to come down with some Basinski.
Ryan Leslie - Ryan Leslie / Transition
(Feb. 10 / Nov. 3) (Casablanca) (Myspace)
RIYL: Neptunes, Usher, modern R&B
Most of us have probably heard the Ryan Leslie story. A boy genius, Leslie scored perfect on his SATs at age 15, graduated from Harvard at age 19, became a bit of an internet phenomenon with his production skills and musical prowess, wrote and produced songs for some of the biggest names in pop music, got his debut album shelved in 2005, produced all of his then-girlfriend Cassie's album, including "Me&U" aka one of the most addicting songs of the decade, released some music from his upcoming album, finally released his self-titled proper debut in February, experienced all sorts of shit with Cassie, where I don't know the whole story, who left him and is with Diddy. His star rose a bit, he had the internet blowing up (check youtube, for real), had a fling with some girls during the summer, released Transition and by now the guy should be taking over pop music (he isn't, but he should be). Now for my story: it actually took me a while to actually appreciated Ryan Leslie. Yeah I'd heard "Diamond Girl" and "Addicted" and "Gibberish" here and there, but I didn't really understand why some people thought this stood out from other r&b. Then I realized that the fact that it barely does is part of the genius. Leslie has ultimate crossover appeal. He's a great musician, a more than competent singer who reaches the high and middle ranges, and the dude raps better than any of the other singer/rapper types. To top it off, his production is as exciting as a Neptunes production was back in 2002. His style is similar to Chad and Pharrell, but unmistakably rooted in modern, radio-friendly r&b. Oh and I enjoy Transition more and loved it the first time I heard it, but I really like them both a lot.
Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics - Inspiration Information Vol. 3
Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen - Inspiration Information Vol. 4
(April / Oct. 26) (Strut) (Website)
RIYL: the soundtrack to "Broken Flowers", Fela Kuti, Funk, awesome shit all the time
Strut Records should win some sort of award this year or something. Of all the many excellent labels popping up in the last few years that specialize in reissuing compilations of african funk and other world music, Strut Records is one of the best. It also helps they put out some real good releases in other genres too. But their award for the year should go to the Inspiration Information series they started at the end of 2008. The idea is putting into work something that music fans have thought about forever: "if you could take a current musician and pair him with a legend, who would you choose?" For volume one, Strut Records helped team together neo-soul/funk pioneer Amp Fiddler with Sly & Robbie. The second volume teamed Ashley Beedle with Horace Andy (though it wasn't very good), but volumes 3 and 4 are unbelievably awesome. Volume 3 teams up the king of Ethiopian music, Mulatu Astatke with up-and-coming avant-funk musicians The Heliocentrics. The result should in reality be the album of the year (hell, Bob Boilen from NPR said so and surprised me). Mulatu's blending of west and east rhythms on the keys and vibes blends almost too perfectly with the Heliocentrics firepower of drumming and anything else they want. Volume 4 teams Jimi Tenor, who already had a great album from earlier this year with Fela Kuti alum and the king of all African drummers, Tony Allen. Tenor and Allen do some speaking and singing throughout the record, resulting in an album that needs ass-shaking to be truly successful. The funk is hard-hitting, the horns stab. The lyrics are funny and sexual. It's just a great time. Contrasting the two is great as well. Wildly different, but both essential.
Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
(Feb. 17) (Western Vinyl) (Myspace)
RIYL: The Shins meet Animal Collective, My Life in a Bush of Ghosts
As an actual full-length album, Luke Temple's debut release under his Here We Go Magic moniker doesn't really work. The music is all over the place, often with little connective thread linking tracks together. Getting from track 1 to track 9, noticing the difference between the two and then recognizing those other 7 tracks were a part of the same album can cause some head-scratching upon first listen. Yet this ALBUM stuck with me longer than almost any other album all year. There are three reasons why this Here We Go Magic works for me. 1. The haze that runs through the album. We can call it lo-fi again if we want, but it is far removed from what usually gets labeled as such. 2. The thought that despite the diversity of tracks on the album, that if I were to make music during this decade of my 20s, based on a lot of my influences and where I wanted to take them: that album would sound much like this. 3. Let's work this out: "Only Pieces", "Fangela", "Ahab" and "Tunnelvision" open up the album and are four of my favorite pop songs all year. "Ghost List" comes out of nowhere, doesn't fit with those songs but turns out to be one of my favorite and most listened to ambient tracks of the year. "I Just Want To See You Underwater" is probably the best Animal Collective song not by Animal Collective. "Babyohbabyijustcantstanditanymore" and "Nat's Alien" are two more ambient tracks that aren't quite as good as "Ghost List" but still hold my attention as misplaced as they are, and "Everything's Big" wanders further from any other track - sounding like a mix between Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams and other alt. country troubadors being backed by a parking lot carnival band and delivering an emotional tin-pan alley standard. If this didn't get your attention, you're lost. It's not a great album, but it is a great collection of songs.
Redshape - The Dance Paradox
(Oct.) (Delsin) (Myspace)
RIYL: I don't know. Berlin techno?
I always cop out when it come to writing reviews of techno records because it's probably the genre I'm least familiar with. Or at least, the genre in which I could make a fool of myself with faster than any other. Techno fans are serious fans. I like techno, but I'm real casual about it. As I said before, I don't really subscribe and seek out hot singles, even though that is what electronic music is geared towards. I'm still an LP guy, so when a full-length techno release as good as The Dance Paradox finds me, I get real excited. The once mysterious Redshape creates classic-style techno that maintains an original voice throughout. He's not just ripping into the last 25 years of electronic dance music, but you can certainly follow a thread to see who some of his influences may have been. Incorporating live drums on certain tracks, spacy pads, stabbing synths, it is beautifully produced. We've heard similar things before, but perhaps there has been nothing quite this good that has coalesced a lot of different familiar influences into one unique whole. For me it is instantly the most enjoyable techno offering this year. I don't typically like quoting other reviewers more than once a year in a list, but I thought that RA's Chris Mann summarized the album nicely in his review, "The Dance Paradox is rich with cinematic atmosphere, invention and aural sleight-of-hand. At once familiar it is also disorientatingly new and it sets itself apart by its remarkable sound design with plenty of fuel left over for the dance floor. It's one of the year's best albums, and reinforces and reinvents Redshape's previously held awe of mystery and unknown."