John Talabot, 2-step, and a whole lotta deep house
With the year dipping down past the half-empty mark, I'm taking a page from No Trivia's book to compile what he termed "a glorified list of my favorite songs" for the first half of 2012.
I had hoped to be somewhat objective, balancing criteria like forward-thinkingness with sheer sonic thrills, but at the end of the day, this list is far more about me than it is the State of Dance Music in 2012. There are few big sellers here; my list doesn't include many of the top-charted tracks on Beatport, Resident Advisor, or any of the other arbiters of dance-music consensus (much less Billboard's "Dance/Club Play" chart). You won't find much conventional tech-house, or dubstep, or electro-house, or trance; for the most part, the tracks here tend to live in the cracks between scenes and sounds. They're mostly a bit rough around the edges; their euphoria has a nail-bitten weariness to it. But, because I can't help but be contrary, even in my own tastes, I felt compelled to include tracks from Rusko and Kölsch that are as clean and uncomplicated as it gets.
Even by my own muddy criteria, there are scores of other tracks that could have been swapped in for almost any of these. But, to get a sense of the dynamism at the fringes of electronic dance music in 2012, you could certainly do worse than to begin here.
Actress, "Caves of Paradise" (Honest Jon's)
A wide-screen standout from Actress' third album, and the LP's most song-like track.
Addison Groove, "Incredibly Exhausted Bunny Ears" (Monkeytown)
The weirdest cut on Addison Groove's sprawling album, this splits the difference between Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, and footwork.
Alden Tyrell feat. Mike Dunn, "Touch the Sky" (Clone Jack for Daze Series)
Unabashedly retro acid jam featuring house music's most compelling hype man; the "S&T International House Mix" is a must-hear for piano-house fans.
Andrés, "New For U" (La Vida)
Deep house doesn't get much more misty-eyed than this. An instant and future classic.
Anthony Naples, "Mad Disrespect" (Mister Saturday Night)
Brooklyn's loft-party series launches a label — and the career of an astonishingly talented newcomer.
B.D.I., "Decoded Messages of Life & Love" (Rush Hour)
Nuclear-powered deep house suffused in sub-aquatic rumble and clang.
Bicep, "$tripper" (Love Fever)
Vintage '90s house vibes (plus a touch of Julio Bashmore) on this runaway underground hit.
Boddika + Joy O, "Dun Dun" (Sunklotuu)
A sultry, slightly wistful, tough-but-supple banger from the U.K.'s dream duo.
Buzzin10, "String Ting" (Frijsfo Beats)
Bump and flex in a nouveau "nu-dark-swing" style: The revenge of Y2K.
Disclosure, "Control feat. Ria Ritchie" (Greco-Roman)
Addictive R&B grooves from London's 2-step revivalists.
DJ Druzz vs. OMEGA MUs, "Apeman" (Throne of Blood)
The Rapture's Gabe Andruzzi gets tribal with an unhinged anthem in the style of Mu's "Paris Hilton."
DJ Marfox, "Mitologia" (Príncipe)
Kuduro meets U.K. funky, thumbs its nose at conventional tuning, swallows a whistle.
DJ Q, "Brandy & Coke" (Local Action)
More garage? You bet.
DJ Rashad, "We Leanin" (Lit City Trax)
Is what getting trepanned feels like? One of the furthest-out tracks on an LP that rewrites the rules of footwork.
DJ Sotofett, "Åsså Med Den Derre Fløyta (Video Bootleg Med Den Elektriske Fløyta)" (Wania)
Sex Tags Mania co-founder DJ Sotofett does a barefoot rain dance for his Wania sub-label. If you buy one tribal house record with free-jazz flute on it this year, make it this one.
DjRum, "Mountains Pt. 1 (Pedestrian's Pirate Radio Remix)" (2nd Drop)
Moody, muscular, late-night U.K. house with personality (and bass to spare).
Elgato, "Zone" (Hessle Audio)
A black hole throbbing at the center of the bass-music universe.
Four Tet, "128 Harps" (Text Records)
The plucked strings are old hat for Four Tet, but the groove is among his best; his rhythms just get tighter and tighter.
Function, "Inter" (Sandwell District)
Who says techno can't be sentimental? A four-to-the-floor tear-jerker.
Geeeman, "Bang't" (Clone Jack for Daze Series)
A no-holds-barred jack track with cutting claps and queasy organs.
WK7, "Do It Yourself" (Power House)
An unmarked white label of this Shed side project briefly turned the techno underground upside down, and flooded Hard Wax with queries; fortunately, it got a digital release.
I:Cube, "Transpiration" (Versatile)
Monstrous chord stabs and hard-scrabble disco breaks on thisback-to-the-old-school bomb. It even has a drop.
James Priestley & Marco Antonio Spaventi, "Baia 2012" (Secret Sundaze)
Euphoric, free-wheeling, Balearic vibes with just the right amount of freakiness; no dumbed-down Café del Mar bullshit here.
Jessie Ware, "Running (Disclosure Remix)" (PMR)
The elastic groove would make for a powerful instrumental on its own, but Jessie Ware's vocals send this one over the top, in the best way.
John Talabot, "So Will Be Now feat. Pional" (Permanent Vacation)
Starry-eyed mope-house from Barcelona's Talabot and Madrid's Pional, this bodes extremely well for their continued collaboration.
Joy Orbison, "Ellipsis" (Hinge Finger)
A year and a half after it first hit YouTube, this skippy, nostalgic house anthem still smells of daisies.
Justin Martin, "Ghettos & Gardens" (Dirtybird)
Bay Area bass maven shows his sensitive side before beating heads against concrete.
KiNK, "Hand Made feat. Rachel Row" (Rush Hour)
A how-to course in creative sampling, and a low-tech, high-energy disco explosion.
Kölsch feat. Troels Abrahamsen, "All Things Matter" (Kompakt Digital)
Because even Kompakt fans deserve their own "Levels."
Lana Del Rey, "Born to Die (Two Armadillos Club Mix)" (Two Armadillos)
By far the best of all the LDR remixes, though you'd barely know it was her. (Perhaps that's not a coincidence.)
Last Magpie, "No More Stories" (Losing Suki)
Originally featured on Maya Jane Coles' DJ Kicks mix, a deeply downcast tune that feels like jungle on 33.
Lorca, "Can't See Higher" (Dummy)
A curtain of drums and bells opens around a smoldering vocal loop, sad but emphatic.
Madteo & Sensational, "Freak Inspector (Hieroglyphic Being Rework)" (Morphine)
Jamal Moss gets extra weird — and extra funky — on a cut that sounds like all the world's machines gone haywire, all at once. When the aliens blast us with their EMP, expect something like this (if we're lucky).
Mano Le Tough, "Mountains" (Permanent Vacation)
Like Ricardo Villalobos' "Dexter," remade by someone who grew up listening to emo.
Marcel Dettmann, "Landscape" (Music Man)
Heavy petting between blast furnaces.
Mistakes Are Ok, "Koala (BNJMN Remix 2)" (Hivern Disc)
This free download actually trumps BNJMN's mix that was pressed to vinyl; rainy-day techno at its finest.
Omar-S, "S.E.X (C.G.P (Conant Gardens Posse) Remix)" (FXHE)
Omar-S gets relatively hi-fi – for him, anyway – on this deep, jacking, R&B-soaked analog house cut. More like this, please.
Pal +, "The Forest" (One Eyed Jacks)
A techno epic for life in the forest canopy, complete with bird calls.
Pearson Sound, "Untitled" (Pearson Sound)
Ramadanman applies some of juke's quick-stepping energy to a snapping, percussive workout in his unmistakable style, and we're airborne.
Ra.H & Dynamo Dreesen, "SpacePops (Donato Dozzy Remix)" (Morphine)
Italy's kind of space techno plants his feet on the ground with a tribal-tinged groove, but acid prevails, in both senses of the word.
Recloose, "Magic feat. B. Slade" (Rush Hour)
Another instant deep-house classic, brimming with guitars, R&B vocals, and an overwhelming sense of swooniness.
Rusko, "Pressure" (Mad Decent)
Given how I've been banging on about U.K. garage all year, it could hardly go uncommented upon that the baron of bro-step went all MJ Cole on us.
Sangue de Cristo, Ponta do Mato (One Eyed Jacks)
Lisbon in the house yet again: Photonz and Tiago re-imagine Caribou's brand of jewel-toned, hand-carved dance music in the style of Mr. Fingers.
Sinkane, "Runnin' (Daphni Mix)" (no label)
Caribou's Dan Snaith puts an Afro-disco spin on this freedom-seeking jam from Yeasayer's Ahmed Gallab; keep an ear out for Ewan Pearson's edit of the Daphni mix, which adds just the right amount of oomph, for more floor-centric contexts.
Storm Queen, "Look Right Through (MK Don't Talk to Me Dub)" (Environ)
Mark Kinchen's organ sounds as fresh as the day he first plugged it in. The very definition of a feel-good summer anthem.
T&J, "Drum & Synths" (Hivern Disc)
Slow-motion house with a thing for the 1980s and a hook that'll lodge in your head for days.
Todd Terje, "Inspector Norse" (Smalltown Supersound)
Not too many Norwegian electro-disco singles rack up 500K+ views on YouTube, but this is Todd Terje we're talking about. The year's most unassuming underground smash.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, "Tapes & Money (John Talabot Remix)" (Polydor)
That's right, more Talabot. One of his best remixes yet, it tones down TEED's boisterousness in favor of understated urgency.
Untold, "Caslon" (Hemlock)
With every record, Untold seems to be getting closer and closer to becoming a pure techno producer. Fortunately, not a purist one.
XI, "Nightlif" (New Kanada)
A more ramshackle take on the "Hyph Mngo" template, but still emo to the core.