I haven’t been counting how many candles we can put on Dubstep’s cake – we’re in the kindergarten years I am assuming? – and however old Dubstep is, it keeps changing and, in my opinion, keeps getting better. I don’t even know if we can call it Dubstep anymore? I hate titles anyway, why do we need to put titles on things? People ask me what kinds of music I listen to: I just listen to music.
Though to use the title, many albums this past year were cut from the Dubstep cloth but might not be strictly labeled as so. The following releases – all coming from London based artists and some of my favorites of the past year – have been extricated from a post-Burial world, where voices are put before beats, and whether these vocals are comprehensible or not, they are always veiled in deep layers of South London murk.
Darkstar’s North caught me by surprise. I was already familiar with Darkstar’s first released single “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer” on Hyperdub so I was expecting an album of the same instrumentals. It turns out, like designer Will Bankhead’s industrial album cover, this album is not disconnected from a long line of dark post-punk British pop, with surprisingly unadulterated vocals. If you needed more evidence of the trajectory they are coming from then you should know that they cover Spandau Ballet with the song “Gold”. In fact, this excellent album is filled with pop songs ensconced in years of post-industrial dust. I also quite enjoyed chatting with one of the members of the group in Honest Jon’s awesome record shop in Ladbroke Grove this fall.
Splazsh (Honest Jon’s Records) by Actress builds on his previous release Hazyville, continuing to submerge a Basic Channel-esque haze with glitched vocals, puncturing through washes of reverb with Prefuse 73-like staccato syllables disguised as beats. This release takes a bit of time for the sheer density of sound to soak into your brain, but once it does this one is a real keeper. It consists of an equal distribution of tracks either for kicking back on the couch or shaking it on the dancefloor.
I have to be honest, I hate writing about music because it’s so difficult to do, but otherwise I don’t know how to tell you about it, so I do it anyway. You know the quote (see here and here for the derivation) from Martin Mull – “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” – well, that’s basically about how I feel. I can’t even begin to explain how off-kilter, warped, and brilliant Mount Kimbie’s Crooks & Lovers (Hotflush) is. Maybe you could try to imagine what it would sound like if Sly & Robbie’s Jamaican drum and bass, the input from two John’s – Cage and his prepared piano and Fahey and his electric guitar, a roller-rink Wurlitzer organ, a bottle of soda water, two galloping horses playing ping-pong, and a broken record player got together for a jam session in a rotating clothes dryer. Yeah, it sounds that good.
Some of the most exciting music of this past year’s latter half, for me at least, came from a series of EPs released by James Blake. While not unfathomable, the development of Blake as an artist across these three EPs has simply been staggering. The Bell Sketch EP, CMYK EP, and the most recent Klavierwerke EP, not to forget numerous remixes, have kept me busy. If you need statistics to testify, James Blake’s remix of Mount Kimbie’s song “Maybes” was the most listened song in all my playlists in 2010. The Bell Sketch EP (Hessle Audio) started out this year with three warped noisy dirges disguised as dance songs. CMYK, the title track from an EP (on R&S) of the same name, with morphed R&B and gospel samples, is the Hyph Mngo of 2010 and undeniably one of the most instantly catchy tracks of the year. His work culminated in the Klavierwerke EP (R&S) of this fall, hands down one of the best releases of the last year, and one where Blake has started to use his own vocal and piano samples (in an almost sublime tribute to Robert Ashley) to construct his songs instead of taking samples from elsewhere. Vocals appear like strobe light flashes accenting unknown features but quickly dissipate so that you can’t establish their familiarly. For me the songs from this EP became the soundtrack to countryside views from trains in motion and these sounds and spaces echoed of half-remembered beats once heard on a dancefloor but replayed through my dreams at night.