Over the course of a year so many albums come out and one can’t possibly listen to 1% of the output of mega conglomerate record labels. I try to stay as eclectic as possible. Everything that sounds interesting I want to sample. Luckily, many websites let you listen to excerpts of albums. Without them, I’d be aimlessly purchasing every CD I heard a positive buzz about. In no particular order, here is my list of the year’s six essential electronic and hip hop records.
1. Cex – “Role Model” – Electronic label Tigerbeat-6’s merry prankster and farcical rapper comes out with a second album of mellow IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) ambience and glitch-hop that’s begging for an MC. With skits that resemble Three 6 Mafia interludes, Cex made the usually faceless genre of IDM overflow with personality. I have to give props just for the Biggie sample.
2. Sole – “Bottle of Humans” – Rap label Anticon’s most vocal spokesman releases an official bootleg (oxymoron central) that continues his own brand of cynicism with an even more animated delivery. With track titles such as “Puppetshow,” his collection chronicles a misanthropic worldview, but his stance or criticism sure hasn’t toned down. The most quotable line on the entire disc sums up his bleak vantage point: “No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public.” Amen to that.
3. Prefuse 73 – “Vocal Studies + Uprock Narrative” – Scott Herren has melded the line between rap and IDM on a single album. As Prefuse, he perfectly merged the freewheeling rap beats of the early 90’s with IDM’s glitchy effects. Vocal samples become indecipherable after processed repeatedly and often resemble robots. Mikah 9 lends his amazing flow on one track that simultaneously sounds like Bone Thugs n’ Harmony and Funkstorung stuck in an attic studio for days. Not since “The Tried” by 9 EP has hip-hop and IDM sounded so perfect together.
4. Clouddead – “Clouddead” – The collective energy of “Why?,” “Dose One” and “Odd Nosdam” can’t possibly be explained in words. This album has to be heard to be believed. “Dose” and “Why?” rhyme over ambient Board of Canada type beats, Nintendo samples and even get melodic with a chainsaw. Nothing is out of the place on this record. Their avant-garde rhymes cover every surreal scenario you’ve never conjured. Sample prose that leaves my mouth gaping: “Sometimes the sunset doesn’t want to be photographed.”
5. Kelis – “Wanderland” – Although this has not come out yet, I listened to the advance and was beyond pleasantly surprised. Top hip-hop producers the Neptunes, behind hits such as “I’m a Slave for U” and “Shake that Ass”, handle every track on the album. They fill every song with their distinctive retro-soul choruses and futuristic space oriented samples. This is the only R&B album that reminds me both equally of Daft Punk and Air; a very odd task to fulfill that probably happened by accident. Praise goes to the Neptunes and every moan they have to overdub.
6. Three 6 Mafia – “Choices: The Soundtrack” – Three 6 Mafia arrives back on the scene with this soundtrack that accompanies their straight to video film “Choices.” I usually steer away from commercial rap releases but their rhymes are so outlandish, so excessively gangsta that the camp value can’t be denied. If John Waters were to quit directing and start a rap group, this would be it. A misogynistic, brutally violent hell ride through the Memphis ghetto in bouffant cornrows and platform Timberlands. It’s a shame Divine isn’t around to play the antagonist.