The past decade in electronic music has been fitful and fruitful, with slews of new sounds and progress both big and small. Here’s an attempt to take stock of some of the main movements and the albums that attended them. (Some of the biggest ones appear in our upcoming Top 50 Albums Of The ’00s list, so take this list as an addendum.)
Various artists, Clicks + Cuts (Mille Plateaux, 2000)
Michael Mayer, Immer (Kompakt, 2002) / Triple R, Friends (Kompakt, 2002)
Various artists, Pure Garage II (Warner Music, 2000) / Zed Bias, Sound Of The Pirates (Locked On, 2000) / Todd Edwards, Full On Volume 1 (i!, 2001)
Warm, enveloping, and riddled with doubt, the debut of Luomo (one of the monikers of Finnish producer Sasu Ripatti) remains one of the decade’s most audacious mergers. Deep-house beats and (especially) bass merged with glitch-techno methodology and dub production technique on six long tracks that drifted and nagged in equal measure. The vocals themselves are drenched with feeling but retain a sense of mystery, thanks to Ripatti’s treatment of them—they haunt the mix, alternately submerged and overpowering, as unstable sonically as they are emotionally.
Matthew Herbert, Lets All Make Mistakes (Tresor, 2000) / Herbert, Bodily Functions (K7, 2001)
Matthew Herbert is an Englishman who wields an uncommon command of all that can make machine-music wiggle and swing. He’s done all sorts of work, from protest music made from the sounds of industrialized chickens to big-band jazz. But his masterpieces so far remain a DJ mix from 2000 and a collection of glitchy torch songs from 2001. The former, Lets All Make Mistakes, features a manhandled set that moves through lots of slaphappy microhouse syncopation and playfully noisy forays. The latter, Bodily Functions, is an unerringly poised artist album that features highly musical programming and some of the most potent, stirring breakup songs ever written. Among all the iconoclasts active in electronic music in the past decade, Herbert is truly unique.
Lots of people in the ’00s called minimal house and techno bloodless and de-eroticized, but not while these albums were playing. Superlongevity, a double-CD mix of the luscious early catalog of the German label Perlon (then in Frankfurt, now moved, like so many other dance-music luminaries, to Berlin), keeps the aural surprises coming for its entire two and a half hours, and from the heaving low end of Baby Ford & Zip’s “Windowshopping” to Narcotic Syntax’s “Merenguerilla,” with its slurred Spanish female vocal, the label showcases itself as first-rate seduction music, as well as techno’s most playful outlet. MRI—Frankfurters Stephan Lieb and Frank Elting—applied similarly restless methodology to a more heavily disco-fied framework on All That Glitters, and on tracks like “Sane And Sound” and “Nightclubbing At Home,” tetchy snares and flickering synths make their pulsing frames seem just a little homier.
Ricardo Villalobos, Thé Au Harem D’Archimède (Perlon, 2004) / Fizheuer Zieheuer (Playhouse, 2006)
2 Many DJ’s, As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (PIAS, 2002)
DJ /rupture, Gold Teeth Thief (Soot/Violent Turd, 2001)
Sampling promised an unlimited array of sonic possibilities, but few of its artisans have employed it with anything like the free sense of play of Australian sextet The Avalanches. Since I Left You crams some 900 samples into an hour-plus that seems to float along on its own cloud, and not just because it utilizes so damn many string sections. It’s one of electronic music’s most whimsical creations, from the neighing horse that hooks “Frontier Psychiatrist” to the shivering theremin and soprano choirs of “Electricity” to “Flight Tonight”’s beats that go splat. A sprite sings about finding “a world so new” at the beginning; the rest of the album is the sound of going there and back.
It’s hard, as the decade comes to a close, to take score of the sound known as dubstep, both because it’s so pointedly diffuse, and because it’s still developing. But even if no dubstep album makes a clear and easy case for fully realized classic status, the genre has thrown out a wealth of notable records with lots of promise. Chief among them is Burial’s Untrue, a haunted 2007 collection of ghost ballads with desiccated skip-start beats and mercury-poisoned voices. Then there’s something newer like 2562’s Unbalance, which fans the distinctive dubstep tempo through more styles and skins than would seem to make sense. The book on dubstep is still waiting to be written, but the above (along with recent work by the likes of Joker, Untold, Zomby, and Martyn, among others) make a good case for that book being worthwhile.