Air - 10,000 Hz Legend
(electronic, indie-pop, ambient)
10,000 Hz Legend is Air's "rock album", so to speak, augmenting the French duo's electronic music with guitars, foot-tappy melodies, prominent vocalists and an absence of the group's trademark, floaty "loungetronica" for about 90% of the album. With it's surreal lyrics and more hard-edged electronic effects, it could be said that the album is weirder than Moon Safari, but it arguably has more mainstream appeal - the aptly-titled "Radio #1" works well as a singalong single and the charismatic guest appearances by Beck, Jason Falkner and Buffalo Daughter help several the songs to avoid sounding faceless. The humour present in tracks like "How Does it Make You Feel" and "Wonder Milky Bitch" are a welcome delight, never detouring into novelty but instead injecting the songs with a touch of humanity that's sorely lacking from albums both before and since. The couple of ambient tracks play out with a new twist, too - the Egyptian-sounding themes of "Radian" are like nothing else the group have created yet, and closing track "Caramel Prisoner" is like wading through syrup - or floating in space, I still haven't decided. With many regarding it as something of a sophomore slump, my love of 10,000Hz Legend makes me feel a bit like the solitary flag-waver in an otherwise empty parade. I'll keep on waving my flag, though - albums with this much personality are worth it.
Squarepusher - Go Plastic
(breakbeat, drum 'n' bass, IDM)
While Music is Rotted One Note would be my pick for the best Squarepusher album, I think Go Plastic might be my favourite, if that makes any sense. It's one hell of a weird album, a Frankenstein's monster of breakbeat electronica that shambles its way through 2-step garage-parody ("My Red Hot Car"), sublimely moving ambiance ("Tommib" - which you might have heard floating by during one of the hotel-room scenes in Lost in Translation), cool-as-ice chillout vibes ("Plaistow Flex Out") and insane, go-nowhere noodling (the oft-skipped "Greenways Trajectory", which sounds like a "made up as I went along" monstrosity intended for masochists with 6-second attention spans). It's arguably Tom Jenkinson's least cohesive album, so how does such an unfocused wreck crack the top ten of the year? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt that at least seven of the album's ten tracks are individually flat-out great, and there's a certain "deformed charm" about the whole mess, but I'll tell you the real reason: "Boneville Occident", "Go! Spastic" and "The Exploding Psychology", a.k.a. the best, second-best, and third-best pure electronic songs of the year, respectively. That sort of quality is just impossible to ignore.
The Microphones - The Glow, Pt. 2
(lo-fi, experimental-rock, psychedelic-rock)
With their previous effort, It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water, having made the #1 position in my 2000 list, it's a pretty major achievement that Phil Elvrum and friends managed to release yet another high-rating album just one year later. Named as a conceptual sequel to its predecessor's centrepiece track, The Glow, Pt. 2 tends to be most people's pick for the best album in the Microphones catalogue, and while I personally prefer it's older sibling, there's no doubting that it's quite a magical collection. All the lo-fi tenderness, inviting warmth and unrelenting experimentation of It Was Hot remain intact here, but with its 20 tracks and 65 minute runtime, this album would mark the true beginning of Elvrum's overt displays of sprawling musical ambition (which would continue to grow with some of the increasingly abstract, labyrinthine concept albums to follow). As such, this also marks the first time that an album by The Microphones really needs to be heard in its entirety for full impact, such that the dense instrumentals and noise experiments can weave their way through the otherworldly folk songs just as was intended. There are some amazing individual tracks on offer, to be sure - "The Glow, Pt. 2", "The Moon", "(Instrumental) (2)" and "Map" are all easy "best of career" choices - but nothing equals the intimate beauty of a single, hour-long listen (preferably on quality headphones).
Boredoms - Rebore Vol. 0: Vision Recreation by Eye
(psychedelic-rock, experimental-rock, noise-rock, remix album)
Boredoms' 1999 album Vision Creation Newsun was an amazing work of experimental-verging-on-unclassifiable rock. A spiraling epic of cyclical krautrock rhythms, tribal percussion, joyous melodies, exuberant vocal bursts and an overwhelmingly uplifting sense of celebration and excitement, all of which saw it rank high amongst the previous decade's greatest albums. On Rebore vol. 0, head-Boredom Yamatsuka Eye has remixed his group's masterpiece, deconstructing the original album to the point that the source material frequently becomes unrecognisable (although there are plenty of moments where an unmistakable component will surface, such as the central melody of "O" drifting into the background during the album's early stages). Rebore retains all of Vision Creation Newsun's surreal trippiness, and while it starts out quite energetically, it eventually offsets that album's urgency with a hazy sense of peace and contentment. The result is the strangely calming, introspective and thoughtful yang to Vision Creation Newsun's hyperactive, extroverted ying. Or, to put it another way, if Vision Creation Newsun is the epic party, then Rebore vol. 0 is best late-night comedown you could possibly wish for.
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1
Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 was one of the very-first afro-beat albums I ever heard, and alongside the obvious starting point of Fela Kuti, it serves as a great introduction to the genre. On their debut album, the Brooklyn ensemble effortlessly recreate and update Kuti's tribal-jazz blueprint across eight spectacular songs, which display a degree of skill and authenticity that's made them the premiere modern-day afro-beat group. Just as you'd hope to hear from a great afro-beat record, Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 is absolutely brimming over with furious energy and righteous, politically-charged indignation, delivered via the kind of crisp recording techniques that lend every track a sense of immediacy and immensity. This immediacy is further bolstered by the inclusion of a couple of brilliantly captured live cuts - especially "World War IV", which powerfully closes the album - and creates a feeling of immersion that lifts the entire production to a higher level. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra are one of those wonderful yet unfortunate bands who - despite having received plenty of high praise throughout the musical community - have remained relatively unheard, and that's a situation in desperate need of a remedy. Do your part - start here.