This year, there were many albums that I didn't get around to reviewing that I wanted to. Coupled with the year-end lists, which always contain interesting ones that I missed, I've got of reviewing to do! I'll do my best to write about the highlights, especially those I'm considering for my own year-end list. Today's focus: electronic music.
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - We're New Here (4/5). The late Gil Scott-Heron, who Wikipedia describes as a "soul and jazz poet, musician and author," released his final album I'm New Here in 2010. His first album in 16 years, it was a seen as a critical comeback for an artist dogged by legal and addiction problems. Although not a big hit, it did receive significant acclaim, showing up on a quite a few critics' year-end lists. I found the idea interesting, but after sampling the album ultimately decided the mostly spoken-word style wasn't my thing. However, this album, featuring remixes of the I'm Not Here by Jamie XX--best known as a member of the British electronic group XX--is right up my alley. It features dreamy, minimalist electronic arrangements, reminiscent of the XX album, on tracks like "My Cloud" and "The Crutch," but also turns up the tempo on "Ur Soul and Mine," which smartly samples Rui da Silva's 2001 dance smash "Touch Me" into a late-night lounge sort of mix. The last song will sound very familiar to many of you: Jamie XX reworked "I'll Take Care of U" into "Take Care" for Drake and Rihanna. Best: I'll Take Care of U, The Crutch, Ur Soul and Mine, My Cloud.
Little Dragon - Ritual Union (3.5./5). Thanks to the influence of dubstep and the aforementioned XX, minimalist electronica with an R&B kiss is all the rage. A decent example from last summer was Little Dragon's third album, Ritual Union, which also rides the (now fading) '80s revival. Dreamy opener "Ritual Union" is by far my favorite track, with keyboard that swoop in and out of its beat-forward production. The new wave vein that runs through the album is prominent on cuts like "Shuffle the Dream," with its bouncy '80s synths, and "Little Man," which has a minimalist R&B feel. As does spartan "Please Turn" and dreamy "Crystalfilm." Not everything is to my taste, especially more off-kilter tracks like "Brush the Heat" and "Nightlight" and "Precious" may be a little too minimalist. Best: Ritual Union, Shuffle the Dream, Cystalfilm.
Washed Out - Within and Without (3.5/5). With Moby having apparently hit a creative rut, it's time to find a new master of doughy-eyed electronica. Washed Out's Within and Without makes a good case for itself. It feels very familiar: "Eyes Be Closed" sound an awful lot like Moby's "Porcelain," "Echoes" reminds me of La Roux's "Colourless Colour" and "Soft" reminds me of something too, although I can't quite put my finger on what (The Chemical Brothers' "Another World" or Passion Pit's "The Reeling" maybe). Not that I mind, as these are some of the album's best cuts. Within or Without doesn't try to push the bounds of ambient electronica (i.e. "chill"), but it does provide some nice tunes to relax to. Best: Eyes Be Closed, Soft, Echoes.