Ten important electronica albums

22:53, Aug 12 2010

About a month ago I posted this - a list of "Ten important metal albums". And I started it off by linking to this - "Ten important hip-hop albums". I mentioned then that I would be doing a series of these, across genres, and I repeated the opening paragraph from the hip-hop post. So now I'm going to take that again. And place it right here:

We all know that lists are subjective - that is the point of them. So I've decided to do a series of top 10 albums across genres. They'll appear sporadically. And rather than call them "Top 10" I will call them 10 of the most important - sorry if that sounds pretentious. It's not meant to.

Today I have chosen electronica.

My definition of electronica - in terms of some of the albums that are on my list - takes in chill-out and downbeat, bits of dub and dance, DJ and production duos, bands, solo artists...it features music that crosses over into hip-hop; that is built solely from existing music/sounds recontextualised; that used to be background music in pubs; that used to be in your face at nightclubs.

And of course you will tell me that I have forgotten so many things. That I am wrong. That my taste is safe, boring, awful. Well, that's not really the point. I am not trying to name the 10 best, as I have said before in the other posts; rather the 10 best for me - hence calling them important (it's short for important to me/for me).

It's a tricky genre to summarise - which is effectively what this list of 10 is - a summary. But I like that it's tricky. I am avoiding all of the antecedents and jumping straight into music that I heard and it blew my mind for a time. Some of it is music I don't listen to much these days, if at all. But I have to acknowledge it for its impact at the time. For pointing the way forward and for referring me back. And some of it is music that I still play a lot these days.

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I am not picking Brian Eno and Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa and Jean Michel Jarre. I own music by all of those artists, it's important to me but this was the list of 10 I thought of. And so, for today (at least) I am sticking with it.

The aim is that you will offer your list of 10. Maybe some of my choices will remind you of an album or two to play. And I'm sure many of your choices will have me thumbing through records, heading back to the storage unit to suss out CDs, searching in stores and online...reminding me of decade-old classics and beyond. And introducing me to things I missed completely.

I mentioned that it's tricky. So we'll start there...

1. Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension

Tricky is a genius. I fell in love with Maxinquaye as soon as I heard it. And I liked Nearly God. But this was the album that really had an impact. It's creepy, sinister, moody, dark. It's wonderful. It's got after-hours soul with Makes Me Wanna Die, it's got music that flows across genres. It's bent beyond trip-hop. Christiansands is a favourite. But so is Piano. I could see a link to Prince in Tricky's blatant individualism; his challenge to those that would try and contain him and categorise him. I've got it here in a list of electronica albums - it might as well be a punk album. It's not an album I want to listen to often. But it's an album I always want to hold on to. I've never tried to force this album on anyone. Or even recommend it. Until now (I guess).

2. Primal Scream, Screamadelica

I am putting this album in the electronica list, because the hits from the album - and the reason it is remembered - has more to do with the involvement of Andrew Weatherall and the influence of acid house and dance music than anything Primal Scream had done on its first two albums - or would go on to after this. The album centres on Come Together and Loaded; a beautiful mess of a one-two hippy-dippy sound collage.

3. Leftfield, Leftism

This album had a huge impact on me, working in a music store in the mid/late-90s as dance music was thriving. Everybody was looking for the perfect album that was fine for neophytes and connoisseurs - and this was it. And it still is. It stands up. The album has a perfect flow to it, peaks and valleys, designed at the time to fill the role of what we now term a playlist. Except it's the same artist - Leftfield has created the journey. I still think the first three tracks in particular are sublime, especially Melt.

4. Kruder & Dorfmeister, The K&D Sessions

Normally a compilation is the cheat's way out but it seems perfect, given the wider dance genre is a style of music that is built from the record collections of other people; based on sounds that have been used already in some way or other. Here the production duo's remixes are collected. It's still one of my favourite albums to throw on to fit the mood no matter who is around, no matter what's going on. It's a good car-trip album; it's good dinner music. It's good for drinks; good for nodding off to. And it's a great primer - filled with choice cuts and key artists. Many names that could have appeared on my list (Lamb, Roni Size, David Holmes, Rockers Hi-Fi) are contained on this double-disc. Perfect. And the Bomb the Bass track, Bug Powder Dust and the remix of Depeche Mode's Useless are definitely highlights to sample.

5. Thievery Corp, Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi

I still remember walking into a store, hearing this, digging it, buying it. It's pretty much on this list for that reason. That - and its mix of spacey-dub, late night Pink Floyd reconstructions and prelude-to-chillout music is still enjoyable now, 13 years on from when I first heard it. Even if, now, it's only very occasionally. But this gave me a name to follow early on as many new types of music were unfolding. Of course the music from this duo got less important as it went on but I still think 2001 Spliff Odyssey and Transcendence stand up today. In fact, as with Leftism, this is a very cleverly built, carefully created album. Designed to flow...

6. Moby, Play

I wrote about Play for Blog on the Tracks quite a while ago. I can't find the link and the exact title of the post escapes me but it was something like Albums You Played To Death and Ruined. I could never listen to Play now - unlike the other albums on this list. But I had to include it. You see I loved Play so much. I bought it on a whim. And I took it home and left it on repeat in my bedroom in my flat for about six days on end. For one summer this album was my soundtrack. It wasn't a particularly good summer, in the conventional sense. I was arrested. I wore a skirt quite often. A bar that I liked a lot and played at and judged a karaoke contest at was shut down for not paying its bills. We were given all the leftover spirits. One night, after putting wee squares of paper on our tongues, we made our version of George's Marvellous Medicine with all the leftover drinks. We had a giant stock-pot on the oven, stirring it with a stick. There was no flame. And no bright sparks in the house. We had Moby's Play on the whole time. I think I feel sick right now just thinking about this. Sick, like the time I did a full body slide in the botanical gardens in a full dinner suit after listening to Moby's Play a bunch of times. It was raining. I was young. And silly. I only have one excuse now. And thankfully no more Moby.

7. Aphex Twin, Drukqs

The summer after the summer of Moby, or thereabouts, was pretty much the summer of Aphex Twin. I loved the double album Drukqs so much. I had heard all the things like Windowlicker and Come To Daddy and Flim. And with Thom Yorke name-dropping Aphex in the wake of the perplexity that met Kid A I plunged in to Drukqs. So I'm picking that album for my list. I could name any Aphex album because I had them all - and I loved most of them. And it sent me on to Boards Of Canada too and so many other things. But Drukqs is my pick. A gem.

8. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

Well, I do like Blue Lines and I do like Protection and I really like the Mad Professor remix album, No Protection but in terms of a list of important albums Mezzanine is the one. I still remember the first time I saw the video for Teardrop. But it's Inertia Creeps that is the real statement here. Well, that. And the rest of the album. A masterpiece. It's a separate topic debating the best Massive Attack album. All I know is that even though I'd heard the others before this one was released this is the one I've actually listened to the most.

9. The Orb, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

There are lots of ambient house and atmospheric drum'n'bass albums that I love. But one of the first I heard was Ultraworld. And though I stuck with The Orb they never really bettered it. Well, not for my money. Take Little Fluffy Clouds, which mixes some Steve Reich with a snatch of Ennio Morricone harmonica from the Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack and an interview with Rickie Lee Jones. Nearly 20 years old, like Screamadelica, and still a gem.

10. Daft Punk, Homework

Like K&D Sessions and Leftism the reason I was hooked on this album was - really - because I was working in a music store when it was released. But I bought a copy to take home straight away. And I still have it to this day, some 13 years on. It still gets regular play too. The videos were cool. The singles were fun. But it's the album as a whole that I love; a huge big trip. And one worth taking. I don't care about anything else in Daft Punk's career. I mean, I've kept up with them, I've checked out the other albums, the films, the remixes, the live albums - this is the one. A work of genius. But if I have to excerpt, two great tracks are Teachers and High Fidelity.

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Right, there's my list. Rather than tell me I've chosen incorrectly, place down your 10 important electronica albums; the records that got you thinking about music differently, that challenged your commitment to other genres, that broadened your horizons...There'll be many you'll add to yours that I wish I could have included in my list. I've left out Air. And Aim. And that's just two from 'A'.

So what are your 10 important electronica albums? Let's share lists - and we'll all be back in the crates, off to the library, scrolling through iTunes, rediscovering the magic...

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