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2009: Brad LaBonte

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Dusted writer Brad LaBonte brings you his favorite 10 releases of what proved to be a bountiful year in music.

2009: Brad LaBonte

It feels weird to say it, but 2009 was just a terrific year for music. I usually think that complaining about a “bad year” for music is silly and the idea that a “terrific year” has more great albums than other years is so completely subjective that it’s almost useless. Here’s my thoroughly subjective take on why 2009 was different: this is the first year in my year-end recaps and best of compiling that I’ve honestly felt as excited about the albums that I’ve left off the list as the ones that are on. Great, landmark releases and reissues from Supersilent, Nicolas Collins, Animal Collective, Rondos, Alasdair Roberts, Thriller, Nite Jewel, and others could have been slotted in, but both of us only have so much time. My picks for the cream of the cream of the end-of-the-decade crop:


Release Date: June 2 | Label: Ostgut Tonträger

Individually, Marcel Dettmann and Shed (a.k.a. René Pawlowitz) have fairly distinct personas – Dettmann cuts heavy, directly pleasurable techno slices that slide Chicago jack into the Berlin framework, while Shed’s techno is a more melodic, Drexciyan minimal/IDM hybrid. Their collaborations on this EP and a recent Planetary Assault Systems remix are something else entirely: quasi-industrial bangers that, when not aiming for brutal precision, aren’t afraid to go completely haywire and almost abandon the beat entirely. Dettmann and Shed: refusing to hold your hand since 2009.


Release Date: September 15 | Label: Rhino

Third has always been my favorite Big Star album. It pierces the confident shells of #1 Record and Radio City to expose the obsessive, depressive songwriter underneath, and to that degree, it always felt like a more truthful work to me. The production seemingly went a long way toward creating the effect, but, as the solo Alex Chilton demos on this all-around terrific box set reveal, the songs really were that sad at the core. The strings on “Take Care,” the female vocals on “Femme Fatale,” the guitar solo on “Thank You Friends”: though still great, they all suddenly sound so extraneous, like a brilliant arranger and musician simply going through the motions of crafting his masterpieces. Unadorned, the tracks are somehow more powerful, which, if you’ve heard Third, would seem an impossible feat.


Release Date: N/A | Label: Apple Pips

In 2009, Appleblim’s Apple Pips label taught both the low-end dubstep heads and the techno nerds afraid to get their hands dirty a thing or two. Each 12” destroyed in its own unique way: Instra:mental’s nervous but blissful 808 jam, Al Tourette’s strangely palatable post-Autechre techno, breakout star Martyn’s soulful take on UK hardcore swagger, and, for my money, the best spin yet on the dark house/funky sound: Will Saul & Mike Monday’s remix of Appleblim & Ramadanman’s “Justify.” All are uncompromising in their attempts to bridge the darker side of the scene with something that, if not quite Kompakt-esque, is pleasant to the ears.


Release Date: October 27 | Label: Warp

Though it’s labeled a “mini-album,” the 50 minute …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age is much more than a placeholder for the next proper Broadcast full-length. The group’s retreat from the anti-septic Tender Buttons into the hazy, unsettling world of Julian House’s Ghost Box label is such a natural move that their pop instincts are hardly missed. Instead, we’re treated to shifting sunshine and mildly dread-filled library music. The album may just be preservationist past-worship, but when it’s so pitch-perfectly done, it’s really, really hard to complain.


Release Date: November 3 | Label: Soft Abuse

As the small comic book accompanying the great Love and Death single made clear, music is therapy for Sonny Smith. Albums like this can easily drag into mopey solipsism, but Sonny has playful pop songwriting, a warm, wise take on lessons learned, and a sense of humor that makes sure the darkness and “Moonlight Mile” weariness never become suffocating.


Release Date: October 13 | Label: Modern Love

I feel like Symbiosis was made specifically for me. Miles Whittaker (a.k.a. MLZ and one half of Pendle Coven) and Sean Canty have a knack for finding the common threads that unite dub, techno, breaks, and ambient, and while that in itself isn’t all that tricky, they coat the album in an awesome Raster-Noton sheen that sucks the heat right out of those breaks and beats. Whatever the time and wherever the place, I want to be listening to this. The second-most hypnotic album of the year, and a heck of a lot more fun than number one.


Release Date: January 26 | Label: Mississippi

For our mid-year round-up of notable releases, I picked out Mississippi’s reissue of Ntsamina for its uncanny ability to defy standard world music or African funk categorization, and repeated listens have only revealed more riches. It’s a fantastic record that impossibly hits on so many different styles: hints of yearning psych comparable to Les Rallizes Denudes, ramshackle takes on Sly Stone call-and-responses, flat-out weirdness like the Buddy Holly rave-up “Weya Tsuma Ma,” and the jaw-dropping “Come and Save Us,” a track for the ages that spins poorly recorded basement gospel into a heavenly symphony.


Release Date: February 6 | Label: Light Lodge

Gorgeous, countrified Mazzy Star missives from the heart that just do everything right. There’s enough mystery, noise and atmosphere to entice psych-heads, but the real draw is lead singer Stefanie Franciotti. Whereas fellow haze-sters Brightblack Morning Light and Beach House wouldn’t be caught dead breaking a sweat, Franciotti knows exactly when to inject emotion and put herself front and center. When she does, the impact sneaks up on you; only after the fact does everything become clear.


Release Date: September 8 | Label: EMI

It’s inevitable to compare the two because of the sequel status and shared release date, and the comparison pretty much tells the tale of hip-hop in 2009: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II shows up Blueprint 3 so hard, it’s silly. If the greatness of Inspectah Deck’s opening line (“I pop off like a mobster boss / Angel hair with the lobster sauce”) doesn’t automatically seal the deal for you, then I guess you just can’t be convinced.


Release Date: May 12 | Label: Raster-Noton

For all of the obvious tension in their work, SND have always been mostly aesthetically pleasing. Even through last year’s 4, 5, 6 12” series, the sound design and musical patterns never approached the harsh rigor of the rhythm. Chalk it up to the general gauzy laptop sound of the post-millenial Mille Plateaux scene, but their work fit right in with backroom chill. Terrific on their own terms, their earlier albums nonetheless felt like they were keeping a beast at bay; that tension between recursive beat structures and Clicks and Cuts sound design had to give at some point.

Structured mostly as one long listening cycle, Atavism is the monster within earlier SND albums. Many tracks aim to simultaneously hit all of the off-rhythms that compel movement while frequently overlaying the staple: thick-ass claps on 2 and 4. But then the ground shifts, 2 and 4 are 3 and 5, or 5 and 7, or upbeats that just shouldn’t be emphasized. The big change is that, unlike the earlier albums, there is almost zero warmth: the only melodic elements are sharp, stabbing chords and pixilated noise that leap into whatever gaps the rhythms happen to leave open. The album frequently devolves into digital gibberish, and even some miraculous moments of beauty creep in when those chords phase and expand, but the sense of propulsion never dissipates for a second. It’s an unflinching gaze into the good, bad, and ugly of beat repetition, and is simply the most unrelenting deconstruction of dance music that we’re likely to get.

By Brad LaBonte

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