Top 20 Releases of 2010 (in no particular order):
Actress - Splazsh LP
Actress has an amazingly special sound. Mostly based around straight-up techno, the way he approaches it is weird and interesting in a very subtle way. He adds little flourishes, pacing, vibe, and just random weird effects and textures to a relatively simple format, making his sound really unique. The overall effect is a strange mixture of sublime, brooding, contemplative and funky. Splazsh explores a nice range of sounds while still maintaining that special Actress touch, and that's quite a feat in itself for any artist. One of the most compelling releases of 2010, or any year for that matter. (review by MRT)
Andy Stott - Love Nothing/Tell Me Anything 12"
This is pure minimal house/techno at it's best. Completely dreamy swinging beats with just the right type of ambiance. I'd venture to say that even the average listener couldn't not be swayed by the undeniable groove of 'Tell Me Anything'. It's simple progression just too nice, too smooth. Generic to most maybe, but this is for techno-lovers only.
ASC - Certainties EP
ASC has at least one major thing going for him: a super distinctive sound. Existing somewhere between twitchy drum and bass and IDM, his sound is cold in the overall environment it creates. But that seemingly cold environment is home to some pretty epicly emotive and often warm sounds. 'Reality Check' (track review) off this particular EP is a perfect example of that. Well worth the nearly year-long wait between my first listen and the official release.
Autechre - Oversteps
With this, Autechre didn't just create an album, they created a little musical universe. traditionally their sound had almost exclusively consisted of intense, challenging, grating beats that would leave the average listener feeling pulverized, and maybe even a little worn out (in a good way though). This was a fairly sharp turn, and a very welcome one at that. It's beautifully ambient, while taking their intense IDM rhythms and putting them into a shiny crystalized form. The result is an album that shines exuberantly, and will in my mind at least be remembered as an all-time classic in this field of music. Whatever that may be... (review)
Balam Acab - See Birds EP
Upon first listen, my mind was blown by this EP. I was completely not expecting something so great, just looking up random artists on the Boomkat record site. It was a very pleasant surprise. The EP in it's entirety is very solid, but track that really stood out for me was 'See Birds (Moon)'. just the way the reverb on the snare hits, the keyboard effects come in and out of the background throughout, and the vocals dreamily float through the space they've created make for a completely magical experience. Brilliant. Looking forward to whatever their next release might have in store.
Breach - Fatherless 12"
Breach is a somewhat obscure artist out the post-dubstep/funky/uk electronic scene. Less obscure now after releasing the killer single 'Fatherless'. It possesses a nicely calibrated moody/vaguely sinister vibe, driving beat, tasteful and well-timed use of samples. Just an overall perfect club-killer production. The kind of track that will always get people's blood pumping in a live setting.
Deadboy - If U Want Me 12"
Continuing with the club-killer theme, here's another one from [same scene] artist Deadboy. Sounds more or less what Kode9 (great DJ, not greatest producer in my opinion) wishes he sounded like. A sweetly funky beat, a warm synth riding the groove, and the sample "if u want" repeated throughout with nicely timed delivery. Like all music from this scene, the beauty of it is that it's often catchy and infectious, but almost always has an interesting contemplative vibe riding somewhere in the background. It's what gives releases like this a bit of depth and ultimately makes the scene as a whole more worthwhile. I'm all for it.
Demdike Stare - Voices of Dust
Demdike Stare are pretty prolific for an artist that has basically just hit the scene, having released a trilogy of albums this past year (Symbiosis, Liberation Through Hearing, Voices of Dust). Voices of Dust is really what does it for me though. It kept true to their sound, but is more complete as an album than the other two releases. The usual brooding vibe was accompanied by an insane tribal-chant-laden mindfuck (appropriately titled 'Hashshashin Chant'), a creepy, seemingly Bug-influenced use of sub-bass ('Desert Ascetic'), but most notably.. a beautiful, ambient build of a track that peaks with a gentle warm synth line washing over you for minutes that frankly don't last long enough (the 11 minute 'Repository of Light'). Yet another release that captures an artist's sound very well and just sounds complete as an album. It's what modern classics are made of.
Egyptrixx - Battle For North America EP/The Only Way Up EP
Egyptrixx might just be my favorite artist of the year. He definitely showed promise in 2009, but this year just blew it out of the water. He's developed a really unique sound palette that is totally out of this world, and seems to have a really good ear for how to actually compose a track (not too long or over-indulgent) which is a lot to say in the current 'cult of the amateur'. The trademark characteristic in his music is a sort of stretched out alien synth, that at certain points is seemingly used vaguely as sort of a psychedelic voice effect. Time will tell if his sound progresses and evolves as excitingly as it has during his debut. But in the meantime, he's basically killing it in a very good way.
Games - Everything is Working EP
Games are one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010. I was already somewhat familiar with Oneohtrix Point Never (one half of Games' main project) and enjoy that quite a bit, but this is the one that really stuck with me. Sounding kind of liked 80's pop filtered through a computer on an acid high, they really found a way to set themselves apart in an age of relative mediocrity. The title track 'Everything is Working' is chock full of ideas and sounds busy and overloaded at times. But upon further listening, it becomes apparent that it all actually works together well, creating a dreamy, chimey, vaguely pop-y track with a nice little beat to boot. Actually forced to change their name due to legal issues, it'd be a blessing if this unit stayed intact and continued this level of output. A group to look out for.
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - 'NY is Killing Me'
An unlikely duo, these dudes put together a pretty perfect dub track in 'NY Is Killing Me'. Jamie XX is really making a name for himself aside from his role as the [mostly undetectable] beat jockey in the band The XX. Samples of Scott-Heron's voice are basically done perfectly. The dub-y beat flows along just as it should, with a little bit of future-funkiness added into the beat for good measure. Essential stuff. Beautiful little synth work at the end of the track as well. The full album of remixes is due next year.
GIRL UNIT - IRL EP/Wut 12"
GIRL UNIT has the formula for club-friendly bass music down pat. A member of the Night Slugs crew that are destroying audiences all over the UK electronic scene right now. Total bangers: 'Shade On' from the IRL EP, and 'Wut' are shiny, hyper-melodic, explosive tracks that would blow away any audience (and have, as witnessed by yours truly at a recent Mary Anne Hobbs gig in SF). Definitely someone to look out for in 2011 and beyond.
John Roberts - Glass Eights
I couldn't possibly put it better than fellow writer MRT did in his list of favorites (link), but John Roberts was a great example of techno done right in 2010. Characterized by restraint, a clean delivery, and just a good sensibility for delicate, tasteful melody. In my top 5 this year I'd say.
LA Vampires and Matrix Metals - So Unreal
The former Pocahaunted vocalist's collaboration with Zola Jesus was fantastic, but i think this one wins me over. The funky, warped guitar beats of Matrix Metals combined with her dreamy washed-out vocals just really do the trick and make for a great semi-lo-fi experience. Totally far-out dream-rock (somebody help me out on the actual genre here), one of my favorite [mostly] non-electronic releases of the year.
Milyoo - Dasien EP
One of the most unexpected releases of the year (hailing from Kentucky, WTF?), this guy has a slight James Blake element to his music, a bit of Raime, and maybe even a little bit of Silkie. But that's not even doing it justice. Just completely surprised at how well developed his sound is in this debut. Sounds like Actress on crack, James Blake with balls, and Silkie put through a warped effects filter. Just a great combination of styles put together in a very cohesive, professional way. There's no way this review/description is doing it justice.. just take a gander if you will.
Onra - 'Bonus Beat' [from The One EP (vinyl exclusive track)]
OK, I ACTUALLY BOUGHT A RECORD PLAYER AND THIS EP ON VINYL JUST SO I COULD HAVE THIS TRACK. Seriously, i could not find it anywhere in mp3 form and it's that good. Nothing too crazy experimental, just the best pop-y instrumental hip-hop-ish track i've heard in a very long time, if not ever. Most sweetly enjoyable track of the year. Feel-good music of the best variety.
Raime - Raime EP
These guys basically came out of nowhere. Yet another amazing debut. Dark, sparse, yet driving brooding beats with haunting vocals creeping their way in and out. Off a label that i'd most definitely like to look deeper into, Blackest Ever Black. These guys have the potential to open up a new genre of dark, minimal dub-influenced music. (review)
Redlight - 'MDMA'
Absolutely wicked track from drum and bass turned dubstep/funky artist Redlight. With a relatively simple beat with traditional claps as the rhythm markers, a ravey series of synth stabs, the title comes in with the 'rolling' effect that spins back and forth to amazing effect. Apparently created using a technique called sidechain compression, it makes for one the coolest, most enjoyable tracks i've heard all year. From the 'What You Talking About?' EP.
Suum Cuique - Midden
A varied and brilliant experimental ambient album off the Modern Love label. Kind of what you'd expect if you're familiar with said genre, but still great to have in 2010 nonetheless.
Shed - The Traveller
Hands down my favorite album of the year. Just a brilliant amalgamation of different techno and general electronic styles put together in such a beautifully succinct package. 'Leave Things' is an epic closer, with a pulsing amen appearing over a sentimental synth line. It's a perfect combination of reflective vibes and adrenaline. And that more or less sums up the album for me: the sweet melancholy of say, an Aphex Twin synth pad, combined with that gets-your-blood-pumping sense of rhythm and experimentation. Shed creates beautiful little worlds on this album. Little musical worlds that i'll be revisiting again and again.
So that's it for my musical experience this year, more or less. Aside from these amazing releases there were countless other tracks, mixes and various releases that rounded out the year in a very excellent way yet don't quite fit the end-of year list format. This doesn't really do the year as a whole justice. Just touches the surface of what will hopefully be an era of musical ingenuity that is sustained for the foreseeable future. Amen to that.