As I write these words high above downtown Torontopiaville in the 300th floor of the a-void.ca Communications Complex, I recognize that it isn’t as easy as it once was for me to keep in touch with the streets. Are they still watching? Who is to say, really. The next time I take my private elevator to the ground floor and straight into a waiting limo, I will pause for a moment and raise a moistened finger to the air. In the meantime you have this deeply out of touch list, which I hope will let you in on what the caviar-munching, world-travelling elites such as myself are listening to. Behold: the top singles of the year, ivory-tower edition.
1. Blawan – Getting Me Down 12″ (white label)
When I heard this first on a 2562 podcast it lodged itself in my brain, but it took me a while to realize how bad I needed it in my life — prompting a frantic Sunday vinyl search on my last full day in London. You might ascribe the addictive properties of Blawan’s meisterwurk to the admittedly bitchin’ Brandy sample. But if you checked his Bohla EP (on R&S, who are giving Brainfeeder a run for their money as label of the year) you’d recognize that blend of hard, ricocheting percussion and sand-blasted tech influences with the well-oiled grooves of UK garage and funky as the mark of a singular voice. Having a vocal carry “Getting Me Down” makes it more immediate, more openly pop, than Blawan’s other stuff, but the tuneless shudder from the depths of the song’s water-tight hull makes it twice as scary ï¿½ and as thrilling ï¿½ as any of your harder tech or dubstep. We’re gonna need a bigger boat to haul in a sound as potently heavy as this.
2. Mono/Poly – Manifestations EP (Brainfeeder)
The G-funk legacy hangs over the Brainfeeder stable like, um, well, guess. But where plenty of beat-types turn to the Cameo- and Isleys-sampling so beloved by Death Row alums, Mono/Poly pours the aesthetic through 36 chambers of dread and unease to produce something a little rougher than expected. “Forest Dark” is like Moroder-pop synths wandering down a dark alley and witnessing a crowd gathered around a dog fight; “Punch The Troll In The Neck” prods you with edgy tones like a riot cop on a sugar high; “Needs Deodorant” makes a pimptastic groove into a slightly screechy, agitated answer to “The Hustle.” I never liked ‘relaxing’ music that much, anyway.
3. Four Tet/Thom Yorke/Burial – Ego/Mirror 12″ (Text)
It’s not just the name recognition that bumped this on here. I swear. (Though did I tell you I totally interviewed Four Tet, while he was holding a BABY?) Truth: the most exciting thing about this star-studded (and when has that adjective ever actually implied anything other than potential disappointment?) single is that it sounds like they pressed it inside out, upside down and backwards. Both tunes are little more than uptempo house rhythms with ghostly swirls of melody and Yorke’s vocal dancing in and out. You can sort of see why Radiohead are commissioning remixes from proper dance producers like Jacques Greene and Lone — after this single, you realize that the problem with King of Limbs isn’t that their song ideas aren’t good, it’s just that the beats are shit. Outsourcing: sorry Thom, but it’s the way of the future.
4. Lone – Echolocations EP (R&S)
More R&S delectation. I like to think the classic, relaunched Belgian label is annoying the shit out of techno purists with people like James Blake and the much more fun-loving Lone, who throws all kinds of sophisticated synth processing and acid house touchstones in with blatant ‘ardkore references and other hallmarks of someone who really doesn’t give a fuck so long as it’s fun. On the other hand, I also like to think that people who are discerning enough to love Detroit techno are also smart enough to recognize genius moves like the barmy glockenspiel arpeggios all over “Coreshine Voodoo” when they hear it.
5. Azari & III – Manic 12″ (Loose Lips)
Speaking of being wildly out of touch, I haven’t heard the Azari and III album yet. (Doesn’t help that I’m over my quota with my ISP, in the latest in a series of small acts of charity that have blown up into giant pains in the ass. But enough about me.) Pretty sure it’ll be good, though, since with every release they’ve figured out ever fresher ways to make vintage Chicago house sounds without slavishly imitating them. “Manic” isn’t totally faithful to any particular era of house, which is probably why I like it — the effervescent arpeggiated basslines, the doubled n’ detuned vocals that people keep comparing to Prince for reasons I can’t quite fathom, and the straight-up DJ Sneak remix that makes it much more likely to make mainstream clubbers’ heads explode without losing most of the things that make the original awesome. Always a good sign.
Hudson Mohawke – Satin Panthers EP
Slugabed – Moonbeam Rider EP
TOKiMONSTA – Creature Dreams EP
Com Truise – Fairlight EP
Drake – “Headlines” (mostly for the beat)
Mo Kolours – EP1: Drum Talking
Shigeto – “And We Gonna (Samiyam Chopsticks rmx)” – Full Circle Remixes
Venice – Animals, Stars and other Psychedelic Creatures
Wiley – “Numbers In Action”
Prodigy – Complex Presents The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP
Flying Lotus – Pattern + Grid World EP
Discodeine – “Synchronize (f. Jarvis Cocker)”
The best albums of 2011 so far coming soon!