The gauntlet is being thrown down for 2012 this month with a slew of high profile and seriously hyped releases finally hitting stores. From Ital's debut LP for Planet Mu to the first single off Scuba's third album 'Personality' and the addition of the mighty Objekt to the Hessle roster, there are plenty of early contenders for record of the year on offer here.
10. ALBY D – THIS DAWN (BLACK ACRE – ACRE031)
Alby D is welcomed to the burgeoning Black Acre label with a unique four-tracker that will undoubtedly put his name on the map. His brand of modern day soul takes its cue from electronic production touchstones, while keeping the focus on honest songwriting. Beatless, ambient opener 'Loss Of Ego' lets the EP float in unobtrusively on a soft wash of hazy synths, warped crackles and distant clatter that fades into 'Voodoo Holiday'; A busy collage of heaving bass tones, mangled synths and scattershot snatches of percussion, it catches you in its web only to let you fall through as the bottom drops out of the track leaving you with the echoing clarity. Title track 'This Dawn' is the most accessible, with his soft vocals floating through the drunken stumble of the drums, pale synth hues and surprisingly tough underbelly while 'Her About Something' strikes a balance between all of the preceding tracks as Daniels builds a dizzying fog of melodies that incases his smooth vocals, all carried along by the 2-step shuffle and searching bass tones.
9. EMMA – RAINBOW DUST PT.II / DREAM PHONE (WAVEY TONES – TONES001)
London party promoters Wavey Tones make the dive into the world of releasing records with the debut from Emma, two weird and wonderful tracks that are a bold and impressive statement from both parties. Already counting the likes of Sully and Zomby as fans, the young Putney-based producer evidently has a bright future. Riding a minimal 2-step rhythm and waves of subs, 'Rainbow Dust pt.ii' is all about the bubbling synths which surge through the track imbued with an otherworldly sadness. On the flip, 'Dream Phone' takes things into darker dance floor territory. The booming 3/4 march tumbles through the track while warped, detuned synth tones give the track a dark grandeur.
8. JON PHONICS – GRID GAMES (PRISM)
Rising beat maker Jon Phonics inaugurates the new PRISM label with the 'Grid Games' EP featuring three heavyweight collaborations backed with three equally impressive remixes from Kidkanevil, Ghost Mutt and Pedestrian. On 'Jack Duckworth' Phonics teams up with BUG for some hazy, skittering RnB action. Opening on a fluttering bed of lush synths, the track unfolds with in a mesh of tangling, warped synth lines that sway and wash over the anchoring kick thuds and skating snares. Up next, he teams up with Pete Cannon on 'ROMES'. Crushing the synths into a sheet of electrostatic energy, the drums take the lead with a forceful snap to them that juts through the glitchy edits and heated bass manipulations. To round off the EP, Jon Phonics teams up with long-time collaborator Jeeks on the epic 'Double Vision'. Built around squirming vocoder smudges and a dense fog of shimmering pads, it raises itself up into a huge exhalation of tumbling drums, astral arpeggios and loaded bass vibrations. One to watch for 2012.
7. TESSELA – D JANE / CHANNEL (PUNCH DRUNK – DRUNK027)
Following the release of his impressive debut on All City last year, West Country producer Tessela has been the subject of a lot of hype. His return on Peverelist's perennially on point Punch Drunk label feels like a natural successor to that EP and one that will undoubtedly continue his ascent through the scene. 'D Jane / Channel' is all about the drums – Tessela's heavy percussion provides both the body and the motor for his tracks. 'D Jane' is led by a jarring industrial stomp that recalls Blawan at his most incisive or Randomer's recent output. 'Channel' has more of a stepper's feel, with skating snares and skittering percussion assuring the track's forward momentum while growling bass tones and pitched toms rip through the track.
6. LHF – EP3: CITIES OF TECHNOLOGY (KEYSOUND – LDN028)
The shadowy presence of the LHF collective once again looms large with their return to Dusk & Blackdown's Keysound imprint. The third EP in a trilogy, 'EP3: Cities of Technology' signals the final chapter before the release of their double CD album on the label in April. Picking up where they left off, the EP features four more dense, woozy and dizzying transmissions from their lab. 'Essence Investigation' immediately disappears down a rabbit hole of tumbling breaks, squirming jazz-inflections and marching bass pulsations that disarms the listener into submission. 'Supreme Architecture' is clearer, riding an unbroken procession of eastern percussion that is the conduit for the eerie melodic touches and otherworldly vocal chants. 'LDN' is sparser still recalling early dubstep in its murky atmospheres and deep subs while maintaining a rhythm that seems to be its own master. 'Eastern Street Slang' is the boldest and most captivating track here, humid in its intensity and bold in its experimentalist spirit.
5. NEON JUNG – DELIRIUM TREMENS (MAGIC WIRE – MAGIC04)
The ever-impeccable Magic Wire imprint returns with another great release from Neon Jung. Following his acclaimed debut 'Just Can't Leave It Alone'. 'Delirium Tremens' is a kaleidoscopic slice of rave-kissed bumpin' brilliance. Anchored down by the thudding bass hits, the loose percussive groove and swirling synth chimes take this in to deliriously ecstatic territory. On the flip the label tap up Nathan Fake for a remix who turns in a dope otherworldly take on the original laying out the loose 2-step rhythm in a dense fog of hazy synths.
4. RANDOMER – SCRUFF BOX (HEMLOCK – HEK015)
Randomer has been on a fine run of form of late with the standout 'Brunk' featuring on Hessle Audio's '116 & Rising' comp and the maximalist 'Real Talk' EP on Numbers destroying soundsystems all over the place. His latest EP finds a perfect home on Untold's Hemlock imprint, bringing two hefty percussive cuts built for maximum impact. 'Scruff Box' goes straight for the jugular, built around a bandy-legged stomp that punches through the mix while managing to remain light-footed in its skip. Split open by bright synth stabs and rough vocal chops, the growling bassline rollers through the track with an inexorable force. On The flip 'Get Yourself Together' tumbles in manically with the melodic ping of the percussion before attacking with ferocity down its chosen rhythmic path. Top quality stuff, but not for the faint hearted.
3. SCUBA – THE HOPE / FLASH ADDICT (HOTFLUSH – PER001)
Hotflush label head Scuba returns with the first single from his forthcoming third LP 'Personality' and is evidently not messing about. Quickly locking a menacing low-end growl into the incisive rhythmic foundations on 'The Hope', Scuba builds a dense and claustrophobic atmosphere narrated by the sleazy call to arms of the vocal. Building the track unrelentingly, it unfurls into a shower of taut chord stabs that release a glimmer of light before diving back down into the murky depths. This is backed by non-album track 'Flash Addict' which acts as a peculiarly contrasting counterpoint. Driven by a less encroaching rhythm section that worms in layers of tribal percussion, the dark atmospheric fogs is lifted in favour of some shimmering melodic work.
2. OBJEKT – CACTUS / PORCUPINE (HESSLE AUDIO – HES019)
Having featured in Ben UFO's excellent Rinse 16 mix CD, people have been salivating over the prospect of getting hold of 'Cactus' for months, and understandably so. The track takes on some of the most prominent and omnipresent tropes of dubstep in its more traditional guises and teases out of them something entirely new and exciting. Built around a scattershot, tumbling drum line, the spasming bass modulations re-invigorate the iconic sound of dubstep's early incarnations. As the bassline shoots out into the pervasive darkness, faint synth strokes streak across it giving you a glimpse into the cavernous depths of the production, while the midrange bass evolves into laser-like shots firing from its core. This is a track that has to be heard on a big rig for you to be able to really appreciate its full power. On the flip, 'Porcupine' takes a more linear but no less effective approach to the same end. Wavering chords and metallic arpeggios hang off the rattling kick rolls and drawn out bass tones as the track careers off down a dark and inexorable path.
1. LAPALUX – WHEN YOU'RE GONE (BRAINFEEDER – BF027)
Following a standout release on Pictures Music and a slew of high-profile remixes, Lapalux becomes the first UK compatriot to join Flying Lotus' lauded Brainfeeder camp. He steps up to the plate too with the 7-track 'When You're Gone' EP, his most accomplished work yet. Reigning in the arrangements and refining the songwriting, the EP is an exceptional collection of tracks. From the hazy textures and organic, creaking rhythms of opener '102 Hours of Introductions' into the inviting warmth and soul of 'Moments' featuring Py, the EP seeps through the speakers before 'Gone's chopped and screwed vocal treatment and detuned synth work ups the stakes. 'Yellow 90s' brings a sense of summery funk to proceedings while 'Construction, Deconstruction' clatters through the speakers with childlike abandon. Lead track 'Gutter Glitter' stands out as an epic centre point to the EP, buzzing ecstatically with energy, before 'Face Down, Eyes Shut' sweeps out on a masterfully crafted wash of ambience.
BEST OF THE REST
JAVEON MCCARTHY – LOST TIME (PMR RECORDS – PMR010)
Smooth 21st century soul from rising singer Javeon McCarthy backed by top notch remixes from leaders of new school house T.Williams and Eats Everything.
ROSSI B & LUCA ft. FLIRTA D – MIND THE GAP (SENSELESS RECORDS – SENSELESSDD006)
Classic lost grime track 'Mind The Gap' from Rossi B & Luca featuring Flirta D gets a long-overdue release along with a stellar remix package.
PIXELORD – KERAMIKA (HIT AND HOPE – HNH005)
More brilliantly warped hip hop from one of the best labels to emerge last year.
MINISTRE X – SUBTITLE OF LIFE (CLECKCLECKBOOM – CCB003)
Label co-founder Ministre X steps up to burgeoning French label CleckClekBoom with two infectious bass-led RnB cuts.
DAM MANTLE / BECOMING REAL (GET ME! – GME003)
More forward-thinking brilliance from the Get Me! Label, this time splitting the wax between the warped eski of Becoming Real and melancholic footwork of Dam Mantle.
3. VARIOUS – BRAiNMATHs VOL.1 (BRAINMATH – BRAiNMATHS)
Brainmath, as the shadowy sister label to Ramp Recordings, has been responsible for a concise but perfectly formed series of releases from some of the most exiting producers of the last few years. Now they are collecting together some of their highlights for a compilation. Given that a lot of these tracks were only ever available on limited edition vinyl, this will be the first time you will be able to grab them digitally. The humid funky swagger of 'Rumours and Revalations' by Zomby features here, sitting comfortably next to the supple grime morphing 'Flexible' – possibly the best distillation of Untold's series of grime instrumentals. James Blake and Airhead join the action with the beautifully textured 'Pembroke' and 'Paper Street', while Brackles delivers the skittering hypercoloured '6am El Gordos'. Bakongo, SBTRKT and SPiDERS complete the stellar tracklist. While compilations are by and large becoming less and less relevant, the quality of music on offer here makes this an essential purchase.
2. VARIOUS – DISKOTOPIA VOLUME ONE (DISKOTOPIA – DSKCD001)
The Tokyo-based Diskotopia label came out of the blocks all guns blazing in 2011. Showing people how a digital label should be run, they have released a succession of top notch releases from the likes of label owners BD1982 and A Taut Line, Visionist and Slackk, all packaged beautifully. They start 2012 with their first physical release in the form of the Diskotopia Vol.1 compilation. Taking the same far-reaching and forward-thinking approach, it debuts brand new material from a number of their burgeoning stable. Opener 'Sunshine' by BD1982 sets the bar extremely highly with its frankly genius re-appropriation of grime's classic tropes. From there they don't let levels dip with highlights like Visionist delivering neck snapping tribal rhythms on 'Tropic', sloppy low-slung funk on RLP's 'Kreeep' and Optimum providing an ethereally beautiful 808 odyssey on 'Ghost House'. A resounding artistic statement that proves the worth of the dying art of compilations.
1. ITAL – HIVE MIND (PLANET MU – ZIQ312)
Having been the subject of widespread acclaim in 2011 for his releases on 100% silk and his own Lovers Rock label, Ital is releasing his startling debut album via the Planet Mu label. The five track long 'Hive Mind' gives him the most freedom yet to fully articulate his leftfield house mutations. Working around the linear structure of the genre, he shapes and bends it into something altogether more nebulous and experimental. Loping opener 'Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)' sets the tone, building its groove out of the lumbering bassline and tribal percussion while the repeated vocal cuts through it with a fidgety anxiousness. 'Floridian Void' finds a psychedelic terrain amongst the astral pads and slow drum shuffle before 'Privacy Settings' delves into a black hole of dub chambers and unsettling atmospheres. 'Israel' warps its way through 10 mins of mesmeric tumbling drum lines and warped percussion before 'First Wave' pulls it back from the brink to entertain classic ideas of house. While this may not be easy listening, you will be hard to pushed to find a more immersive and individualistic listen this year.
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