By Lauren Wise
By Troy Farah
By Troy Farah
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Lauren Wise
By Anthony Sandoval
By New Times Staff
By Chris Parker
4. MJ Cole, Sincere (Talkin Loud) Speed garage, which sounds like jungle after taking anger management classes from house music, grabbed urban London by its pasty shoulders last year. Oddly enough, its skippy, two-step beats and full-bodied vocal arrangements have yet to catch on in the States (or really anywhere outside of the U.K.). MJ Cole's approach is much more musical than the easily digested work of his colleagues, opting for warm, synthesizer-painted backdrops and collaborations only with the finest divas. "I See" sounds like Roberta Flack getting her groove back, and "Sincere" ripples like a pool of syrup being disturbed by syncopated kick drum and snare hits.
5. Burnt Friedman & The Nu Dub Players, Just Landed (~scape) Mr. Friedman, who boasts one of the most open minds and deepest talents in electronic music, splits his time between Germany and New Zealand and numerous deeply esoteric projects. The implications of dub, the "studio as instrument" approach pioneered by Jamaican legends Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby, have been reverberating through techno, ambient, jungle and related galaxies since the very beginning. But never has the original vibe -- its rootsy yet outerspacey bottomlessness -- been re-created so authentically outside the Caribbean or the year 1978. Through the Nu Dub Players' live instrumentation and Friedman's mad professing behind the mixing board, they manage to extract dub's cosmic consciousness from its traditional reggae constraints, transporting Just Landed to a whole new genreless dimension.
6. Outkast, Stankonia (Arista) Outkast, the greatest chorus writers in hip-hop, managed to remain "so fresh and so clean, clean" while exploring the malodorous regions of the Southern inner city/backwoods experience on Stankonia. With their freelance studio consultants Organized Noize taking a backseat, the production isn't as richly melodic as it was on their masterwork Aquemini, but raucous headbangers like "Gasoline Dreams" and "B.O.B." are sure to get the party jumping -- or even moshing -- every time this near-classic is put on the platter.
7. I-f, Mixed Up in the Hague, Vol. 1 (Panama) I-f is an obscure Dutch producer and DJ who briefly set international dance floors ablaze with his retro-electro smash "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" back in 1997. Not comfortable with the spotlight in the slightest, he crawled back into the shadows of the city he calls Murder Capitol (The Hague), only surfacing to spin a set of the most esoteric, tragically forgotten Eurodisco records of all time. Here he blends the themes from Blade Runner and Dr. Whowith proto-techno oddities by Giorgio Moroder (responsible for Donna Summer's smash "I Feel Love") and A Number of Names (whose "Sharevari" directly led to Detroit techno). A fascinating -- and thoroughly booty-moving -- tour through the back alleys of electronic music of yore, expertly sequenced by a DJ who really knows his history.
8. Various Artists, Harry the Bastard Presents Club H, Vol. 2 (Statra) Perhaps an even lesser known DJ than I-f, Harry the Bastard masquerades by day as the record buyer for the largest domestic distributor of dance music. But as is becoming increasingly the case, smaller named jocks like him are selecting the true gems, only as their club-headlining counterparts were able to five years ago. Harry, with his limitless crates to pull from, has an ear for deep, immaculate house grooves layered with live jazz instrumentation and only the most understated vocals. What's more, he hasn't included a dud yet on either of the two volumes of Club H. Dig through a specialty record shop for six months looking for 12-inchers of this quality, or pick this up -- the choice is yours.
9. Various Artists, Body & SOUL, Vol. 3 (New Wave) I'm usually wary about picking DJ mixes for a list of the year's best albums, but this and the two preceding it simply pack more minutes of bliss than 99 percent of 2000's "original" full-lengths. Background on this one: DJs Joe Claussell, François Kervorkian and Danny Krivit hold a party every Sunday afternoon in Manhattan called Body & SOUL that pays tribute to the garage sound pioneered by legendary selector Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage (later bastardized in the U.K. as speed garage, see #4). Heavy on roof-raising diva vocals and rhythms that run closer to funk than those of traditional house, this is dance music for an older, dare I say, more sophisticated set than those who consume the popular trance mixes of Paul Oakenfold and company. On Vol. 3, the triumvirate reaches beyond the insular New York garage cabal to draw on the flavors of Detroit (DJ Rolando's "Knights of the Jaguar," easily one of the top three club hits of the year) and San Francisco ("Equatorial," by the hippy trippy Dubtribe). The perfect gift for that lifelong discophobe you know who claims "that stuff all sounds the same," "it doesn't take any talent," and the coup de grâce "it isn't really music."
10. Sade, Lovers Rock (Epic) A new Sade album should have broken my top five without reservation. But Lovers Rock just doesn't have a single as memorable as Diamond Life's "Smooth Operator" or Love Deluxe's "No Ordinary Love." And to these ears, the turn to more prominent acoustic guitar was a step in the wrong direction, pulling her unclassifiable aesthetic closer to soft rock than lilting soul. Still, Sade's eternally assuasive voice fills in where the songwriting lacks, and the unexpected dubby overtones liven up the occasionally flat production.
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