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It's Album Time

Todd Terje

It's A Feedelity Affair

Lindstrøm
It's a Feedelity Affair, the debut solo album from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm (following his full-length collaboration with Prins Thomas), is the soundtrack to an unrealized mystical science fiction/action epic directed by Wong Kar-Wai. Handily, it also functions as a greatest-hits compilation for the celebrated Norwegian dance producer, collecting most of the sides from his single releases on his own Feedelity Recordings imprint between 2003 and 2006. Many of the inclusions turn up here for the first time on CD, although several of them appear in slightly abbreviated, edited form, presumably to accommodate CD running time. Arranged roughly chronologically in the order of their release, these productions run the gamut from the brisk, cheerful robotic disco of aptly named early single "Fast and Delirious" to the slinky, vaguely sinister disco strut of "Limitations" to the meandering, tripped-out cosmic disco of "Further Into the Future" (a Prins Thomas co-production) to the balmy, downtempo equatorial disco of "Arp She Said." Yep, it's all disco in some way or another, including more or less any way you can imagine as long as it's instrumental and least vaguely electronic (actually not everything here is instrumental: the supremely dubbed-out "Music [In My Mind]," Lindstrøm's first Feedelity single, boasts some druggy, disorienting spoken/sung vocals courtesy of Christabelle, aka Isabelle Sandoo.) Otherwise, these tracks are united by a sense of adventurous musicality and a pervasive playfulness that is rarely so pronounced in electronic dance music -- dig the myriad extended noodley keyboard solos, the dizzying sequence of chord changes toward the end of "Fast and Delirious," or the endless restless mutations that compose the stately, epic-length "There's a Drink in My Bedroom and I Need a Hot Lady." The compilation's undeniable peak and centerpiece is also Lindstrøm's signature tune, the epochal "I Feel Space," which nods to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's Italo disco blueprint "I Feel Love" in its title and agitated, arpeggiated bassline, but looks toward the cosmos with its mesmerizing, gracefully yearning portamento synthesizer melody.

Metro Area

Metro Area

Discovery

Daft Punk
Four long years after their debut, Homework, Daft Punk returned with a second full-length, also packed with excellent productions and many of the obligatory nods to the duo's favorite stylistic speed bumps of the 1970s and '80s. Discovery is by no means the same record, though. Deserting the shrieking acid house hysteria of their early work, the album moves in the same smooth filtered disco circles as the European dance smashes ("Music Sounds Better with You" and "Gym Tonic") that were co-produced by DP's Thomas Bangalter during the group's long interim. If Homework was Daft Punk's Chicago house record, this is definitely the New York garage edition, with co-productions and vocals from Romanthony and Todd Edwards, two of the brightest figures based in New Jersey's fertile garage scene. Also in common with classic East Coast dance and '80s R&B, Discovery surprisingly focuses on songwriting and concise productions, though the pair's visions of bucolic pop on "Digital Love" and "Something About Us" are delivered by an androgynous, vocoderized frontman singing trite (though rather endearing) love lyrics. "One More Time," the irresistible album opener and first single, takes Bangalter's "Music Sounds Better with You" as a blueprint, blending sampled horns with some retro bass thump and the gorgeous, extroverted vocals of Romanthony going round and round with apparently endless tweakings. Though "Aerodynamic" and "Superheroes" have a bit of the driving acid minimalism associated with Homework, here Daft Punk is more taken with the glammier, poppier sound of Eurodisco and late R&B. Abusing their pitch-bend and vocoder effects as though they were going out of style (about 15 years too late, come to think of it), the duo loops nearly everything they can get their sequencers on -- divas, vocoders, synth-guitars, electric piano -- and conjures a sound worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller. Daft Punk are such stellar, meticulous producers that they make "any" sound work, even superficially dated ones like spastic early-'80s electro/R&B ("Short Circuit") or faux-orchestral synthesizer baroque ("Veridis Quo"). The only crime here is burying the highlight of the entire LP near the end. "Face to Face," a track with garage wunderkind Todd Edwards, twists his trademarked split-second samples and fully fragmented vision of garage into a dance-pop hit that could've easily stormed the charts in 1987. Daft Punk even manage a sense of humor about their own work, closing with a ten-minute track aptly titled "Too Long."

John Bush, Rovi

Moving Cities

Faze Action
Faze Action's second album doesn't make any huge strides from the first, though the brothers Lee have expanded not only their production sense but their range. As on 1997's Plans and Designs, all of the tracks are heavily indebted to the softer side of the '70s rare-groove triumvirate: disco, Latin, and jazz-funk. Vocalists like Zeke Manyika (on three tracks) and Vanessa Freeman (on one) make for a more varied ride, and the grooves are deep and plentiful. The result is a very well-done coffee-table album, but again Faze Action never aspires to the heights of a listening experience that's actually diverting.

John Bush, Rovi

Hercules and Love Affair

Hercules And Love Affair
Disco DNA can be found in any current pop chart, and there are underground groups and producers who owe as much to the Chic Organization and the Prelude label as a garage band owes to the Stooges and the Rolling Stones, but few treat disco as a living and breathing art form, as opposed to something in need of a revival and the uniqueness-eliminating reverence that often goes with it, like Hercules & Love Affair. Led by Andrew Butler, a songwriter, producer, keyboardist, and vocalist, the group is fleshed out with production and programming from the DFA's Tim Goldsworthy, a trio of disparate but complementary vocalists (Antony, Nomi, Kim Ann Foxman), and several instrumentalists who are skilled and knowledgeable enough about club music from the mid-'70s through the present to not retrace too many of anyone's steps. Apart from their name, which resembles the more rock-oriented Heloise & the Savoir Faire and can be interpreted as a play on the names of both house producer Adonis and disco units like Pam Todd & Love Exchange, they aren't likely to trigger many concrete flashbacks. Instead, they present an evolved version of disco, one that contains certain trademark elements of the past while sounding brand new. Wordless vocal samples, synthetic cowbells, prancing keyboard taps, and heartbroken lyrics over a four-four rhythm, as heard on "You Belong," don't make for an original set of components, but the manner in which they are put together, constantly twisting into different shapes and sealed inside radiant production, make it practically otherworldly (and it is, by a long distance, the least singular track on the album). The other tracks that put the dancefloor first, whether small or grand in scope, are generous in delights, supplying supple basslines, beaming keyboard patterns, and singing horns, all of which are arranged in ways that serve the body and the mind, simultaneously muscular and musical. What really puts the album over the top as something else is not just its ideas-stuffed brevity (46 minutes in its original form), but its material not made explicitly for the club. The back-to-back pair of "Iris" and "Easy" are gorgeous, slow-shifting, electronics-driven songs with lyrics that read as platitudes yet are truly heartfelt and deeply touching, obviously written not just for the sake of vocal accompaniment. [The U.S. version, released three months after the U.K. version, adds "Classique #2" and "Roar" -- the two tracks from the first 12" -- as well as the video for "Blind."]

The Future Will Come

The Juan Maclean

The Secret Tapes of Dr. Eich

Paperclip People

Glow

Tensnake

Staff Picks Electronic Fundamentals

The Fat Of The Land

The Prodigy
Few albums were as eagerly anticipated as The Fat of the Land, the Prodigy's long-awaited follow-up to Music for the Jilted Generation. By the time of its release, the group had two number one British singles with "Firestarter" and "Breathe" and had begun to make inroads in America. The Fat of the Land was touted as the album that would bring electronica/techno to a worldwide audience (Of course, in Britain, the group already had a staggeringly large following that was breathlessly awaiting the album.) The Fat of the Land falls short of masterpiece status, but that isn't because it doesn't deliver. Instead, it delivers exactly what anyone would expect: intense hip-hop-derived rhythms, imaginatively reconstructed samples, and meaningless shouted lyrics from Keith Flint and Maxim. Half of the album does sound quite similar to "Firestarter," especially when Flint is singing. Granted, Liam Howlett is an inventive producer, and he can make empty songs like "Smack My Bitch Up" and "Serial Thrilla" kick with a visceral power, but he is at his best on the funky hip-hop of "Diesel Power" (which is driven by an excellent Kool Keith rap) and "Funky Shit," as well as the mind-bending neo-psychedelia of "Narayan" (featuring guest vocals by Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker) and the blood-curdling cover of L7's "Fuel My Fire," which features vocals by Republica's Saffron. All those guest vocalists mean something -- Howlett is at his best when he's writing for himself or others, not his group's own vocalists. "Firestarter" and all of its rewrites capture the fire of the Prodigy at their peak, and the remaining songs have imagination that give the album weight. The Fat of the Land doesn't have quite enough depth or variety to qualify as a flat-out masterpiece, but what it does have to offer is damn good.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Random Album Title

Deadmau5
Progressive house pioneer Joel Zimmerman (better known as Deadmau5) takes in a variety of electronic influences to create the multi-layered sound on his debut LP, Random Album Title. Zimmerman effortlessly elements of progressive house, trance, techno, and electro into a multifaceted dance album. Contains the singles "Faxing Berlin" and "I Remember."

Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Rooty

Basement Jaxx
Sophomore album blues from a pair of producers who just want to party all night and make a few tracks during the day? Not a chance. Two years of globetrotting as house superstars fortunately haven't dulled the keen blade of Basement Jaxx's production style. So raw you can't believe they spent over an hour per track, so perfect you're glad they stopped noodling about long before most producers would, and so poppy they should get picked up by commercial radio in America as well as the rest of the world, Rooty is the second straight triumph from a pair of producer/DJs who look set to carry the torch for dancefloor electronica in the years to come. Titled after the duo's just-recently-closed club night, this is a true party album -- shot through with no-attention-span tangents, bridges, and interrupted samples, nowhere better than on the psychedelic soul of "Broken Dreams," with its Tijuana Brass horns and Middle Eastern flute. Though it's missing the genre-spanning flair and red-line energy that made 1999's Remedy the best dance album of the '90s, Rooty comes very close, with a similar emphasis on swinging rhythms and slapping percussion. It's much funkier than Remedy, much closer to commercial pop, and much more sensuous, with several tracks of moaning, juiced-up funk from the Prince playbook. The opener, "Romeo," is groovy and luscious enough to be the next single from Destiny's Child (with a tad more vocal histrionics), and almost every track features vocalists who sound less like professional singers (or flavor-of-the-month robots) and more like they've been tapped as finalists at a posh karaoke bar. (A few of those female-sounding vocalists are actually the Jaxx themselves, altered slightly.) Add a little filtered disco ("Jus 1 Kiss"), a track of rowdy New York house (the Gary Numan-sampling "Where's Your Head At," with background shouting from Erick Morillo and Junior Sanchez), bleepy acid house ("Crazy Girl"), and some P-Funked-up house ("Breakaway") and the result is a stunning, diverse album that's not only an immediate winner but a great album down the line as well. You can take the boys out of Brixton, but you just can't take Brixton out of the boys.

John Bush, Rovi

Dig Your Own Hole

The Chemical Brothers
Taking the swirling eclecticism of their post-techno debut, Exit Planet Dust, to the extreme, the Chemical Brothers blow all stylistic boundaries down with their second album, Dig Your Own Hole. Bigger, bolder, and more adventurous than Exit Planet Dust, Dig Your Own Hole opens with the slamming cacophony of "Block Rockin' Beats," where hip-hop meets hardcore techno, complete with a Schoolly D sample and an elastic bass riff. Everything is going on at once in "Block Rockin' Beats," and it sets the pace for the rest of the record, where songs and styles blur into a continuous kaleidoscope of sound. It rocks hard enough for the pop audience, but it doesn't compromise either the Chemicals' sound or the adventurous, futuristic spirit of electronica -- even "Setting Sun," with its sly homages to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and Noel Gallagher's twisting, catchy melody, doesn't sound like retro psychedelia; it sounds vibrant, unexpected, and utterly contemporary. There are no distinctions between different styles, and the Chemicals sound as if they're having fun, building Dig Your Own Hole from fragments of the past, distorting the rhythms and samples, and pushing it forward with an intoxicating rush of synthesizers, electronics, and layered drum machines. The Chemical Brothers might not push forward into self-consciously arty territories like some of their electronic peers, but they have more style and focus, constructing a blindingly innovative and relentlessly propulsive album that's an exhilarating listen -- one that sounds positively new but utterly inviting at the same time.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Man Machine

Kraftwerk
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of The Man-Machine, not as the first album to garner notice for Kraftwerk but as the one to establish the group's pointed, playful robot personae. The gesture (or anti-gesture, as it were) was a radical one in 1978, and it spread beyond their fashion choices to their sound, which had become all the more sleek and streamlined. With mercurial synthesized vocals and all sorts of futuristic sounds bouncing around, opening track "The Robots" plays like an anthem for the ages—and the songs only grow more antic and agile from there.

Andy Battaglia, Google Play

Discovery

Daft Punk
Four long years after their debut, Homework, Daft Punk returned with a second full-length, also packed with excellent productions and many of the obligatory nods to the duo's favorite stylistic speed bumps of the 1970s and '80s. Discovery is by no means the same record, though. Deserting the shrieking acid house hysteria of their early work, the album moves in the same smooth filtered disco circles as the European dance smashes ("Music Sounds Better with You" and "Gym Tonic") that were co-produced by DP's Thomas Bangalter during the group's long interim. If Homework was Daft Punk's Chicago house record, this is definitely the New York garage edition, with co-productions and vocals from Romanthony and Todd Edwards, two of the brightest figures based in New Jersey's fertile garage scene. Also in common with classic East Coast dance and '80s R&B, Discovery surprisingly focuses on songwriting and concise productions, though the pair's visions of bucolic pop on "Digital Love" and "Something About Us" are delivered by an androgynous, vocoderized frontman singing trite (though rather endearing) love lyrics. "One More Time," the irresistible album opener and first single, takes Bangalter's "Music Sounds Better with You" as a blueprint, blending sampled horns with some retro bass thump and the gorgeous, extroverted vocals of Romanthony going round and round with apparently endless tweakings. Though "Aerodynamic" and "Superheroes" have a bit of the driving acid minimalism associated with Homework, here Daft Punk is more taken with the glammier, poppier sound of Eurodisco and late R&B. Abusing their pitch-bend and vocoder effects as though they were going out of style (about 15 years too late, come to think of it), the duo loops nearly everything they can get their sequencers on -- divas, vocoders, synth-guitars, electric piano -- and conjures a sound worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller. Daft Punk are such stellar, meticulous producers that they make "any" sound work, even superficially dated ones like spastic early-'80s electro/R&B ("Short Circuit") or faux-orchestral synthesizer baroque ("Veridis Quo"). The only crime here is burying the highlight of the entire LP near the end. "Face to Face," a track with garage wunderkind Todd Edwards, twists his trademarked split-second samples and fully fragmented vision of garage into a dance-pop hit that could've easily stormed the charts in 1987. Daft Punk even manage a sense of humor about their own work, closing with a ten-minute track aptly titled "Too Long."

John Bush, Rovi

Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Skrillex
Previously the frontman for L.A. post-hardcore outfit From First to Last, Sonny Moore continues to develop his unforeseen dubstep tendencies with the second EP under his Skrillex alias, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. This surprising electro reinvention still throws a few bones to his previous metalhead crowd, with the virtually demonic basslines of "Scatta," a blisteringly dirty 140-bpm anthem featuring the suitably breakneck-speed MC skills of U.K. grime collective Foreign Beggars, and the sinister lyrics of the Daft Punk-esque robotic rave of "Kill EVERYBODY" ("I want to kill everybody in the world") just as unsettling as anything the two albums recorded with his former band had to offer. But perhaps inspired by the move to Deadmau5's Mau5trap label, its nine tracks present a more chilled-out, melodic, and even playful side to the eclectic producer. "With You, Friends" (an ambient reworking of the closing track to his My Name Is Skrillex EP) is a slow-burning epic that displays his penchant for chopped-up vocal samples amidst some lilting piano chords, swirling proggy electro riffs, and hypnotic house beats; "All I Ask of You" echoes the lush techno of his new boss, with its warm layered synths, ethereal vocals (courtesy of Penny), and Euro-trance hooks; while even the heavier moments are interspersed with lighter touches, such as the ingenious sample of YouTube sensation speedstackinggirl ("Yes! Oh My Gosh") on the towering beats and distorted bass of the title track and the Space Invaders-style bleeps, helium vocals, and stadium rock handclaps on the chaotic electro-clash of "Rock n' Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)." The three remixes from Noisia, Bare Noize, and Zedd are solid if unspectacular, with only the latter's chilled-out version of the title track providing anything wildly different from the originals. But the invention showcased on the first six bass-heavy anthems is more than enough to suggest that the U.S. has found someone who is capable of selling the dubstep sound back to its South London homeland.

Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Aphex Twin
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is a desperately sparse album: thin percussion and several haunted-synth lines are the only components on most songs, and Richard D. James added only one vocal sample on the entire album ("We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams"). Also, the sound quality is relatively poor; it was recorded direct to cassette tape and reportedly suffered a mangling job by a cat. All this belies the status of Selected Ambient Works 85-92 as a watershed of ambient music. It reveals no influences and sounds unlike anything that preceded it, due in large part to the effects James managed to wrangle from his supply of home-manufactured contraptions.

John Bush, Rovi

Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

The Orb
Much like the early Orb-related project recorded as Space, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld simulates a journey through the outer realms -- progressing from the soaring ambient-pop of "Little Fluffy Clouds" and the stoned "Back Side of the Moon" (a veiled Pink Floyd reference) to "Into the Fourth Dimension" and ending (after more than two hours) with the glorious live mix of "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain." A varied cast of samples (Flash Gordon, space broadcasts, foreign-language whispers) and warm synthesizer tones provide a convincing bed for the midtempo house beats and occasionally dub-inflected ambience. With a clever balance of BBC Radiophonics Workshop soundtracks, '70s ambient meister-works by Eno, Hillage, and Floyd, plus the steady influence of Larry Heard's sublime Chicago house, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is the album that defined the ambient house movement.

John Bush, Rovi

Singles

New Order
Now that Waiting for the Sirens' Call has been officially declared part of New Order's history, only eight months after release, it's time once again to reassess the group in the form of a mostly redundant compilation. Rhino calls Singles the group's "first ever career-spanning two-disc retrospective," but it's more like the group's first compilation to contain tracks from Sirens' Call. Besides, 1987's Substance spanned the group's career upon release and remains the basis for most New Order compilations (this one included), so it's no big deal. Just as importantly, over a third of the contents date from 1993 onward; that's too high a percentage to make the set an ideal introduction. Considering its title, Singles has a clear-cut purpose, unlike 2002's International. Then again, each of the 14 tracks contained on International are also here -- what amounts to an inferior version of Substance with some crucial tracks squeezed out in favor of lesser, later singles. A proper sequel to Substance, covering Technique through Sirens' Call, would've made more sense, but the lure in dressing up a combination of oft-recycled classics with slightly varying surroundings has yet to lose its appeal. Substance remains, and will likely always remain, the release to get you started. [The Japanese version included bonus tracks.]