The 50 Best Albums of 2016

In this post: an introduction, reviews of the top 10 albums of the year, a complete top 50 list, and a streaming playlist with a track from every top 50 album save for those not on Spotify. See you in 2017!

There were no seismic shifts in the pop landscape in 2016, nor in 2015, nor in 2014, nor in recent memory. The last time I remember feeling a legit sense of the earth moving under my feet (um, ears?) was when in 2006-2007 the Neptunes and Timbaland ceded ground to Kanye West’s now-dated chipmunked vocal samples, The White Stripes (and before them, The Strokes) firmly rewrote the pop-rock template and the Dixie Chicks told the world they weren’t ready to make nice. All the change since then has felt incremental, which may be a function of my age, but aside from maybe Drake and 40, who has rewritten the playbook — anyone’s playbook? Maybe it doesn’t work like that anymore. Technological change can generally be seen only in the rear-view mirror, but I can’t help thinking it’s changing the way the music evolves. Weep for the future historians who have to find a through-line in the evolution of music in the teens.

If that’s the way things are, or will be, then 2016 was the year I stopped worrying and learned to love the absence of a bomb. None of the albums on my top 10 list feel like any kind of quantum leap forward, but they are all masterful and constantly stimulating, even surprising, on the tenth or even fiftieth listen. It’s pretty shocking to me that a straight-up gangsta rap record like Still Brazy or an instrumental-rock spazzout like Return To Sky would end up atop my list, to the point that I often wonder whether I’ve started privileging the familiar over the unexpected as a kind of defensive mechanism, against the shell-shock of the new. But the flipside of that is my disdain for the records proclaimed as epochal (Arcade Fire *durrr*, Taylor Swift *yawn*) has made me more enthusiastic about records that feature maturing talents, like Blonde, and that showcase mature artists operating at their peak, like Anguis Oleum and A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s exciting to be around when the music world is being turned upside down, but it’s no consolation prize to bear witness to a crop of artists who be doin it and doin it and doin it well.

1. Frank Ocean - Blonde (Boys Don't Cry)

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Team Frank Ocean was already a heaving bandwagon when Blonde dropped, though to these ears the hype was premature when Channel Orange was the only evidence on offer. Whatever, I probably wouldn't have thought Prince was a genius on the basis of his first album, and yet, and yet. Blonde is plenty full of genius-signaling greatness, in flashes of wry lyrical humor ("did you call me from a seance? You from my past life") and epic ballads like "White Ferrari" that just scream This Is Everything You Never Dared Hope He Could Become. There's something in Ocean's ability to leave a line hanging in the synth-soaked, sometimes guitar-wrist-flick-punctuated air. He owns the space between words, shapes it invisibly with the last line and the next one. Even the funkier moments like "Pink + White" are expertly paced hops from one melodic cloud to the next, with his signature move of brightening the harmony in mid-lyric. More than any other impulse he seems to have, Frank Ocean just loves to yank the listener from nostalgic, sometimes idyllic images drenched in romance to mundane, pungent detail about drugs or, often, driving. "We're alone, making sweet love, taking time / but god strikes us!" To me, the centerpiece of the album is "Solo" for the simple reason that it works on a granular detail level -- capturing a moment of pure bliss from an acid trip on a dance floor -- but it also works its way gradually through a heartbreak that left him alone, exposed without a lover and without the rhythm section whose absence leaves a joy-shaped hole in the track. Absence and space are the most expressive parts of the album, and knowing how to play them is irrefutable proof that Frank Ocean has ascended to a higher plane. Though if he really were some kind of god, he'd be the kind that likes to day-trip back to earth, maybe as a swan, just to mess with some poor human for a few hours before returning skyward.

 Selections from a-void’s Best Albums of 2016

 The List: 1-10

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
2. YG – Still Brazy (400/CTE/Def Jam)
3. Lorenzo Senni – Persona (Warp)
*4. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Anguis Oleum (Screwgun)
5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – FRKWAYS Vol 13: Sunergy (RVNG Intl)
6. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso)
7. Pangaea – In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
9. DVA [HI:EMOTIONS] – Notu_Ironlu (Hyperdub)
10. Kaytranada – 99.9 (XL)

 11-50

11. Pet Shop Boys – Super (X2)
12. Vince Staples – Prima Donna EP (Def Jam)
13. Weaves – Weaves (Buzz)
14. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Matador)
15. Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yr Not (Jagjaguwar)
16. Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
17. Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking (Atlantic)
18. *Purling Hiss – High Bias (Drag City)
19. A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation (Pirates Blend)
20. *Useless Eaters – Relaxing Death (Castle Face)
21. The Gaslamp Killer – Instrumentalepathy (Gaslamp Killer Music)
22. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope/Polydor/Vagrant)
23. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
24. Bardo Pond feat Guru Guru and Acid Mothers Temple – Acid Guru Pond (Fire)
25. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador)
26. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service (Epic/Sony)
27. Kenny Barron – Book Of Intuition (Impulse/Universal)
28. Poirier – Migration (Nice Up!)
29. Hieroglyphic Being And The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio – Cosmic Bebop (Mathematics)
30. Camera – Phantom of Liberty (Bureau B)
31. Rihanna – Anti (Def Jam)
32. The Field – The Follower (Kompakt)
33. Trevino – Front (C Birdie)
34. Marquis Hawkes – Social Housing (Houndstooth)
35. Warpaint – Heads Up (XL)
36. *Fp-oner – 6 (Mule Musiq)
37. Lone – Levitate (R&S)
38. *Lawrence – Yoyogi Park (Mule Musiq)
39. Black Milk and Nat Turner – The Rebellion Sessions (Computer Ugly)
40. Pye Corner Audio – Stasis (Ghost Box)
41. Africaine 808 – Basar (Golf Channel)
42. *Andrew Cyrille – The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM)
43. Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution (Blue Note)
44. Jakob Skott – All The Colours of the Dust (El Paraiso)
45. Dynamis – Distance (Tectonic)
46. Gerry Read – Chubby Cheeks (Timetable)
47. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Columbia/Sony)
48. Steve Haushcildt – Strands (Kranky)
49. Future – EVOL (Epic/Sony)
50. Prins Thomas – Principe Del Norte (Smalltown Supersound)

* = not on Spotify

Odds and sods: Pixelord, Bitchin’ Bajas

Bitchin Bajas

Bitchin-Bajas1-e1425655653656
Transporteur
Hands In The Dark

As I gazed at extortionate collector prices for a copy of Bitchin Bajas’ out-of-print Krausened EP today, it occurred to me how much had changed since then. (And that maybe I should be grateful there are copies to be had.) Transporteur hints at their last, self-titled album, with the group’s latest release appearing to be pillaging the off-the-cutting-room-floor bassoons or bass clarinets. Only where that last seemed deliberate, and deliberated over, nothing on Transporteur feels especially thought through. Arpeggiators arpeggiate, drones drone, but nothing sticks. I still love them, but as far as collectibility goes, maybe don’t stockpile this one quite as assiduously…

Terranova

terranova
Restless
Kompakt

Apparently, not every single thing Kompakt puts out is great. My worldview is shaken to its very core, cats dogs living together total anarchy, &c. That said, even this not-especially-memorable artist album has a few knockout moments, so rather than rag on at length about wack vocals (“Underverse”) I would like to point you to the subtly original dub-tech-house of “Goldilocks” and even “Restless Summer”. You can see the sort of goth romanticism in a handful of Terranova’s tracks serving a certain purpose in a Michael Mayer Immer mix, for example, but mostly the clunky, disjointed attempts at anthemic grandeur come off like junior high school theatre nerds speaking to each other in olde English – in short, tedious.

Pixelord

pixelord_032715
Places
Hyperboloid

Is anything less endearing among amazing producers than realizing that said producers can do multiple genres with ease? It seems silly but it bears repeating that we do not trust you if you seem to do too many things well. (See also: Bjork, Andre Ethier, Michael Bloomberg). Pixelord is not going to escape that trap, which is a shame in one sense – twisted hip-hop beats like the Destiny’s Child-tweaking “Ottawa” are nearly as solid as plaintive yet garage-y cuts like “Bodo” and “Novosib.” The variety probably makes him harder to market, but it certainly doesn’t make him hard to like.

Lakker

lakker
Tundra
R&S

Lakker has made some frighteningly unrelenting singles and EPs for R&S so I was pleasantly surprised to find tunes like “Mountain Divide” on Tundra, blending the drum-corps assaults of his earlier stuff with touches of rusty, reverbed-out drone and keening high-register vocals. Tundra has plenty of slam-dunk moments, but it really shines when Lakker explores different moods beyond just the total panic of humans stuck in a fancypants space station’s trash compactor. (In fairness, it also does that very well – see the urgently throbbing “Milch” and “Ton’neru.”) “Halite” sounds more like the soundtrack to a night driving scene in a Michael Mann movie, while the album-ending two-fer of “Oktavist” and “Herald” brush lightly up against the skittering hits of early Autechre while channeling ambient Aphex Twin – never a bad thing.

Jamie XX and other things you already have opinions on

Jamie XX

Jamiexx-InColour
In Colour
XL

The one question I ask myself more than any other when reviewing (well, other than “just how sober do I need to be for this task?”) (Short answer: not very) is, ” what is this music for?” Not strictly in the sense of what it was purpose-built for, but what kind of record is it and where and when would I listen to it?

I don’t have an answer for In Colour, which is usually a bad sign. Some of it fits handily into DJ mixes, if only their mellower bits. “Sleep Sound” I’ve already put to the test, and the churched-up handclap stomp of “The Rest Is Noise” would certainly qualify. But the rest is vague – the drum sounds are indistinct, anything in the low end is muddy (almost certainly a deliberate choice, but does that make it defensible?) and the tracks’ development is minimal. It doesn’t really make sense as a bedroom record – it’s not varied enough, it’s too fuzzy, it sweeps through your ear holes like a light breeze and leaves little trace. But I can’t imagine busting out something as mopey and dull as “Loud Places” at an actual gathering of limb-waving humanoids.

In short, In Colour feels like a painting or a photograph that you have to squint to see, that doesn’t look quite right from any angle. What is there to do but sigh and stroll on?

Boof

boof
The Hydrangeas Whisper
BubbleTease Communications

Maurice Fulton is not a name I paid a ton of attention to in the past, even though his Mu project with his wife Mutsumi Kanamori was broadly salivated over in the dance press. Regrets, I have a few – after hearing this latest Fulton album, under his Boof alias, I wonder wtf I’ve been doing with my dance-music-listening life. The Hydrangeas are Whispering “get your ass onto the discotheque floor,” where tart, twangy guitars and fat electric bass (as opposed to digitally programmed) parts bump and hustle their way to the ultimate summer soundtrack. If it wasn’t for the corny Dave Brubeck rewrite of “Emi’s M” I might be temped to use the word “perfect,” but even with that blemish, this is still one of the more beautifully entrancing records of the year.

Nozinja

nozinja
Nozjinja Lodge

Warp

I was thrilled at this record from about five seconds in, which suggests I was already well predisposed to like it. White music blogger adores first legit (read: on a Western label) release by non-white cult hero vaulted out of obscurity by music press? Nozinja certainly ticks all the boxes; only time will tell whether we’re on to the next one by the time his second record comes around. (A booster of both Congotronics and Funk Carioca hangs his head.) So I go into this latest round of praise with a certain wariness about where my ears are leading me, and a warning for those who haven’t been riding the hipster taste merry go round for all that long.

And yet, I love this record and I want other people to hear it. It’s the perfect antidote to the all-consuming melancholy of trap over the last few years – in that, and in its frenetic drum programming, it shares some of the appeal of footwork, but a better comparison might be soca – this happens to be bursting at the seams with melody. Despite the fact that a lot of it is in minor keys, the energy jumps out of the speakers, throws Mardi Gras beads around your neck and pulls you into the dance. Where things are more sinister than they seem.

The centerpiece, from this perspective at least, is “Baby Do U Feel,” with its adrenaline-charged marimba-chords and echo-laden rave-style vocal samples. It feels like there are about six records going on at once, only it’s more fun to listen to them this way than to slow it all down and figure out what’s going on. The sensation of being overwhelmed – which I used to think only breakbeat science could deliver – here comes from all sides, thwacking at your ears with relentless glee.

Trevor Jackson

trevorjackson-format
F O R M A T
The Vinyl Factory

The dark time arrived with the word “electroclash,” something that arguably was more loathed then even than “EDM” is now. Amid the trucker hats and the tedious college-rock indie-dance came Playgroup, Trevor Jackson’s attempt to harness some of that cultural energy for some actual music. After a decade or so making fleeting appearances, Jackson’s new album feels instantly timeless, which is to say it sounds like the best bits of the 80s distilled into a powerful, blunt exilir.

Minimalism might be in the doghouse right now but Jackson makes it new with his unwavering focus on the dance floor, even with very few bits with which to move the crowd. “Nowhere” might as well be called “No Music” given how much of it consists of just two ribcage-rattling bass notes, a rimshot and a slightly tweaked kick drum. It, and “Voodoo Racist,” are haunted by lingering traces of acid, while “OCP” is marked with the scarlet letter of aggressive tech-house. But Jackson rejuvenates cliches with a kind of stubborn obliviousness – why shouldn’t I do something interesting with guitars (“Icaro”) if I can make it good, he seems to mutter? Why not indeed.

Ricardo Tobar

csm_Ricardo-Tobar_Cover_ORLP037_2500_a8b60a95a0
Collection
Cocoon

This was another random eMusic discovery, a process that most often leads me to dance albums that don’t fit any existing dance subgenre. Pretty sure this Ricardo Tobar disc fits squarely in the tech-house camp, and yet, I hesitate to describe it as such. He does moody four-on-the-floor exceptionally well – see the panoramic synths over chugging drum patterns in “Invierno” or the faraway yearning of “This Is Pop” – but there are enough feints and waves in the direction of bedroom-tronica that I didn’t know where to put songs like “Blue Mint” with its whimsical synth-brass wobbling away. The cumulative effect is a gauzy distance from the active listener, though maybe the title is an acknowledgement that you’re not supposed to listen to the whole thing at once. In truth, it shines most brightly if you don’t.

Rapidly aging reviews: Jam City, Mike Gao, Pearson Sound

Posting is light around here while I plough through Polaris Music Prize listening obligations, but please accept these slightly outdated reviews for now, plus a mix I just finished last night that I will put up this week. I love you and want you to be happy. – Deemo

Jam_City_Dream_A_Garden_Cover_Art

Jam City
Dream A Garden
Night Slugs

File this under records I listened to at least 10 times and can’t remember a lick of after the fact. I will rep Night Slugs all day and have plenty of Jam City jawns in my virtual crates but the plot was lost somewhere around track three, where the shoegazey vocals and 80s-lite-funk-gone-melancholy congealed into an image as featureless as a Guy Fawkes anonymous mask. Not ruling out a monster second act but the first had me striding purposefully toward the bar long before the curtain fell.

 

APR070

Mike Gao
Migamo
Geotic

This is probably a reflection of my current workout regime, but my gym is increasingly making me think of Guantanamo. If pushup planks didn’t come with the tagline “from the people who brought you waterboarding” I might not feel quite so strongly that today’s R&B is part of a campaign to break my will and leave me moist and quivering on a rubber mat. But here we are. Someone switched the station today to roots reggae towards the end of my last set and I was too weak to believe it was real. Must be a plot to get me when my guard is down, and then bam, hit me with the new Young Thug. Fin.

I felt a bit the same when I heard the new Mike Gao sandwiched between some tuneless post-grime single (seriously, what is plaguing the scene right now, it’s like mid-00s Autechre all over again) and a fourth-rate J Cole type (shudders). It’s a trap! But no, don’t Ackbar too soon. Geotic really is a whole album full of greasy neo-soulquarian beats and back-to-the-futuristic talk box-rocking prog synthism. There’s a hint of trap in the gothic piano basslines of Red Car and the sputtering snares and hats of So Hard To Be Free. But for the most part this is more of the glorious boom bap future that the early Low End Theory cats seemed to promise us when they hit the underground in the late 00s.

 

 

cover

Pearson Sound
Pearson Sound
Hessle Audio

Manny Farber’s white elephant art vs termite art theory is pretty handy when talking about pop music, though the size issue – white elephant art tends to overwhelm with presence but doesnt stand up to scrutiny like termite art’s rich details on the edges of the work – is figurative, not literal. When I first heard Mumdance and Logos’ Proto, and not long after, Pearson Sound’s self titled disc, I was mostly baffled at how dry and inhuman my favourite producers were becoming. Hoping for an actual musical note, never mind a melody, was like mustering the effort to scale a series of sand dunes in hopes of finding an oasis next to one of them. I like drums as much as the next dance geek but some of this stuff sounds like it could have been made using Einsturzende Neubauten’s power tools.

Repeated exposure made me enough of a fan of Proto that I decided to pick up the vinyl, and when I got back to my decks and turned my subwoofer to a suitable setting – a rare indulgence, out of respect for the neighbours – I was floored. But also suspicious, which brings me back to Farber. Surely anything that requires that kind of fidelity to impress has to be missing something in the creativity department? Does it mark this stuff out as middle-aged-stereo-equipment-salesman-bait, the dance equivalent of a Pat Metheny mid-80s sonic abortion? Am I going to have to grow a ponytail?

All is not lost, I think. The reality is that dance music was always meant to be heard in a club, on a big, nasty system that puts the kick drum all up in your sternum like a boxer jabbing away, and if that as a home listening requirement is not punk rock, well. Both Proto and Pearson Sound sound perfectly huge on decent headphones and speakers, but something is plainly missing until you break out the big hardware.

Pearson Sound in particular is an odd beast on mediocre headphones like mine. Subtle shifts in texture, plus a general lack of a sense of the stereo field leaves the high synth moan in ‘Crank Call’ flat and repetitive; on a good system, it wobbles and sways with every iteration. Cheap ear buds flatten the dynamic shifts that the arrangement in ‘Russet’ is carefully tailored to unveil. Pushed by speaker cones out into the air, it’s masterful.

A steady diet of these discernible yet austere pleasures would quickly become unpalatable. But then, so would any other form of extreme minimalism – drone, ambient, Neu!, colour field painting, etc. Pearson Sound has grit and detail, shadow and light, and play, its particular mixture of which is singularly great. But the emphasis is on ‘singular’.

 

Catching up: Björk, John Carpenter, DJ Clent

bjork

Björk
Vulnicura
One Little Indian

I guess this is Bjork’s breakup record but I always heard, well, all of them as breakup records. All that vocalese and weird phrasing and unprompted high-note-hitting screams angst to these ears. It’s just that on Vulnicura the lyrics match up to the overall mood. You can’t mistake “History of Touches” for merely pining for the fjords.

It really works. The prog-rock time signature wonkery and emotive ramblings perfectly capture the feeling of once-solid emotional supports disintegrating with little warning. And the production is riveting, making full use of strings’ inherent melancholy. I wouldn’t wish the apparent emotional turmoil of this record on anyone, but sad Bjork appears to produce the best Bjork.

carpenter

John Carpenter
John Carpenter’s Lost Themes
Sacred Bones

People need to make more John Carpenter movies, apparently. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s Drokk was apparently commissioned for Dredd, but the filmmakers ultimately didn’t feel the very Carpenter-like vibe of their score would fit the more conventional-action-movie movie itself. Likewise, apparently Mr. Carpenter has lots of tunes for movies that never existed or got made, and it’s a fun game to listen to these while imagining a Snake Plissken-like figure walking across a rainy landing strip toward the camera. Carpenter’s got a fabulous sense of drama and clearly knows his way around a synth or two; I’m not convinced I’ll be listening to this set more than occasionally given that his compositional skills are more limited than his arranging or melody-crafting ones — there’s a certain formulaic quality that’s maybe to be expected from a director who makes a lot of genre pictures. Still, some good fun to be had if you don’t ask too much of it.


dj-clent

DJ Clent
Last Bus To Lake Park
Duck N’ Cover

Since footwork was thrust into the wider consciousness (ie. white people like me discovered it – in my case, with DJ Rashad’s Just A Taste which was four years ago), the releases I’ve cherry-picked from the ether have spanned from super basic hack-job sampling to futuristic brain-melting slabs of innovation. Props to veteran DJ Clent for making a record squarely the middle of that spectrum without sacrificing any urgency or excitement. “Space Control” feels like a race car that’s going to fly off and smash into the warning track at any second, but miraculously holds onto the groove; “Fear This Muthafucka” pairs an eerie vocal siren with a series of spoken and synthesized barks that are as disorienting as being slapped around the face. But “Let Me See You Juke” is as straightforward as they come. Your juking, motherfucker, let me see it. The Nintendo song doesn’t totally work, but otherwise Last Bus To Lake Park is so good that I have a hard time choosing a favourite. Naturally, the track with the most “motherfucker”s wins by default.

a-void.ca’s best albums of 2014

Click here to listen to the Soundcloud playlist, featuring tracks from each album

WHERE IS T-SWIFT?

Ok, I admit it, I didn’t listen to it. Nor did I get through albums by Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Keyshia Cole, Calvin Harris, et al and sundry. I also didn’t hear all of Ariel Pink, Foxygen, Swans, TV on the Radio, Leonard Cohen, Julian Casablancas and too many others to count. Don’t even talk to me about jazz or country. (I wouldn’t have much of interest to say.) So WTF *did* I listen to? I’m not even sure how to describe it. Dave-core? Morris-dance? …maybe it’s better if I don’t.

This is the odd post-poptimist desert I feel like I’ve been sent to, via my escape pod hurtling from the full time music-crit grind. The barriers have all fallen – like a lot of right-thinking people, I’m perfectly happy to flip flop from Nicki Minaj to Neil Young to Young Thug in the space of an hour, but what happens when you don’t have time to devote to what might properly be called truly Catholic tastes? Does my embracing of a specialty – electronic music, not even really including the hip-hop that used to be part of my professional bag – mean I’ve re-embraced some of the biases I spent the early 2000s working to shed, like an earnest young Chinese party bureaucrat devouring Marx and Mao, and then giving it up in favour of Day Trading For Dummies?

It’s not a question of openness, I’ve realized, but a question of how you apportion your listening time. For better or for worse, I shoved the stuff that seemed like a long shot into a hard drive folder marked ‘Later’ and threw on another platter of grime, and this is the list that came out.. There was certainly no kind of shortage of amazing electronics to digest; the volume of almost-worthy discs attests to that. (Sorry Tre Mission, SBTRKT, DMX Krew, Shi Wisdom, Mark McGuire, Run The Jewels, Pop Ambient 2015, I could go on.) The LPs that did make the cut seemed not quite dancefloor friendly, except in an abstract sense. Bits and pieces of LV and Joshua Idehen, Caribou, Distal et al slipped into my mixes with scant friction. But the inventiveness I loved often didn’t fit in the space between floor-filling singles, not that I mind. Still, this is a list borne of someone who experienced dance music in 2014 mostly in a bedroom or between headphones. Simon Reynolds’ inveighing against IDM-like anti-dancefloorism aside, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

The startling truth is that being kind of lazy, in terms of challenging your sense of what you like, can still be an astonishingly rich listening experience. There was enough originality and delight in my year in albums to make the absence of all that pop and hip-hop I missed feel about as painful as the knowledge that I didn’t eat nearly enough artisanal cheese in the last twelve months – not quite the sting of regret as much as the vague acknowledgement that I may have missed something good, possibly, but it’s not keeping me up at night.

If I had one thing I would ask of dance music in 2015, it would be for the most hypnotic, challenging, arresting, electrifying albums to be a little more melodic. I love the discs I chose, but as a whole I felt like my diet was a smidge on the grey side. Producers like Mumdance and Logos, Peverelist, Objekt and others put out single after single of holy-shit-guys-listen-to-this-ism, but when I put them all in a mix, I ended up taking a bunch out and replacing them with some chooons to break up the monotony. And the grab-bag of albums felt roughly the same, though I didn’t curate this list in a similar way. You can’t turn down a slamming, mesmerizing beat like the ones all over the Next Life comp or the Clap! Clap! record, melody or no. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.

Cot Damn Fall ’14 Masterpiece No. 3: Clap! Clap!

clap-clap-web

Clap! Clap!
Tayi Bebba
Black Acre
Released Sept. 8 2014

Maybe it was the mysterious nature of the Italy-based producer behind Tayi Bebba, but the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ is now probably the first thing dance aficionados associate with Clap! Clap!. That’s a shame. Let’s assume for a moment that the person is a white man; is this then an attempt to dress up someone else’s work – maybe that of a whole culture – as something original, and then profit from it, the way the likes of Pat Boone did by rerecording early R&B hits in a more ‘white’ style? I would argue it isn’t. For one thing, it’s clear that, although the samples of field recordings on Tayi Bebba pervade the album and give it its concept (an imaginary island), they’re arguably transformed into original work by the way they’re sampled and combined with synthesized elements to make a work that has merit in its own right. Of course, the work being interesting doesn’t absolve the creator of having swiped someone else’s ideas, but frankly, it helps. Nothing about Tayi Bebba feels tossed-off or exploitative; it’s a nuanced, well-constructed work. In a certain sense, I’d compare it to A Tribe Called Red; while ATCR obviously has a direct link with its native Canadian sample sources and Clap! Clap! may not, ATCR didn’t invent their culture from whole cloth either, they just brought vibrant new context and creativity to existing material. (I find it a little odd that dogmatic left-wing radicals are, in these cases, so hung up on the idea of inherited culture. They certainly don’t feel that way about inherited wealth.) While Clap! Clap! may not have come from the culture he or she is sampling, I don’t see any attempt to claim authority or authenticity in reference to the source material, so without knowing more, I’m willing to listen.

With that out of the way, boy do I dig this record. Clap! Clap!’s talent as an arranger and producer is unmistakeable; there’s nothing outwardly ‘ethnic’ about a song like “Conqueror (remorse/withdrawn),” yet it’s just as arresting and invigorating as the more obviously African-based “The Rainstick Fable” with its chants and kalimba melody plinking and plunking away over vivid manifestations of the low end theory. Read: bass. There’s no gimmick here, that I can see; just great, kinetic dance music that borrows liberally from garage, hip-hop and dancehall as well as its sample sources to create refreshingly original stuff. I love the half-time trunk-rattling rhythm of “Kuj Yato” and the almost Bhangra-like Jew’s harp groove of “Burbuka.” Oh hell, I love it all. If you’re a fan of Mo Kolours or Flying Lotus’ early stuff, your life will be vastly improved by this album.