Best Of 2009: Beats/Breaks

ChefMAGNET’s Corey duBrowa picks his favorite electronic/dance albums of 2009: Raekwon (pictured), Phoenix, the Field, the xx, Maxwell, DOOM, Q-Tip and more.

So here we are in the years: A dozen beyond my very first feature for what was then only a magazine, this edition of Beats/Breaks marks my final editorial contribution to MAGNET. A lot has changed about music during the past decade-plus: Downloads have replaced discs, the industry has lost more than a third of its monetary value, and “indie” has become a meaningless term (especially in an era when MTV no longer stands for Music on TV any more, but rather, Mooks on Jersey Shore). But one thing hasn’t changed: the power of music to elevate, to inspire, to transcend genre and even moment-in-time and make itself an immortal part of the pop landscape from the moment it graces the ears of listeners. Despite the industry-wide chaos, 2009 was a terrific year for music in general and beat-related music in particular, as artists continued to experiment with technology and genre-blending to create new sonic vistas that got feet shuffling and booties moving on dance floors ranging from Buenos Aires to Berlin to Boston. The list below represents a body of work as diverse and imaginative as the times in which we live. So aloha, Mr. Hand: These are the best beats/breaks of 2009, and this is me signing off for now.

1. RAEKWON | Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt II [EMI]
Like The Godfather Part II before it, this sequel to the Chef’s 1995 classic (arguably, the finest Wu-Tang joint ever released) is equal, if not superior, to the original in almost every way—a pirate’s bounty of imaginatively drawn narratives, cinemascope detail and an embarrassment of hip-hop riches. Despite its twisted history (multiple release dates, a gaggle of part-time producers, delays and drama galore), tracks such as doo-wop-flavored posse cut “New Wu” and “House Of Flying Daggers” reestablished Raekwon as the Shaolin Superman, a microphone killer with a closetful of incarcerated scarfaces straight from Central Casting and a pile of past-due contracts to execute.

2. PHOENIX | Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [Loyauté/Glassnote]
Most bands I know of would kill for even one dance-floor anthem as brain-alteringly catchy as “Lisztomania,” “1901” or “Lasso” to be visited upon them at some point in their careers; this French legion conjured up three of ‘em on the same album. A record that renders labels such as beats, breaks, dance or whatever term you might assign Phoenix’s caffeinated jitterbug completely meaningless, other than “must have.”

3. THE FIELD | Yesterday And Today [Kompakt]
With only six tracks (three of which clock in at more than 10 minutes in length), Alex Willner’s ambient electronic opus slid under the radar of most listeners in 2009 but remains one of the year’s finest records, an album that does as much for so-called minimalist techno as bands such as Ride and Slowdive did for shoegaze, back in the day. Featuring input from guests such as Battles/ex-Helmet percussionist John Stanier, samples from the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and a welcome cover of the Korgis’ “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime,” Yesterday And Today might be the most surprising and rewarding dance release of 2009.

4. THE XX | XX [Young Turks]
How can a band citing influences such as Aaliyah and Rihanna, production work from Diplo and an educational pedigree that includes graduation from London’s Elliott School (featuring alumni such as Hot Chip, Four Tet and the immortal Burial) be anything but a dance act? Give a listen to the slyly catchy “Islands” or “Heart Skipped A Beat” and tell me that the xx’s amalgam of the Cure, New Order and Young Marble Giants shouldn’t rise up to rule the dance floors of the world. Bring back the Haçienda, ya’ll! Wave those sad-colored glowsticks in the air like ya just don’t care!

5. MAXWELL | BLACKsummers’night [Columbia]
Less a dance record than a neo-soul addition to the canon of classic work from predecessors such as Prince, Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Marvin Gaye before him, Maxwell’s fourth LP is his best by a country mile and one of the most underrated releases of 2009, a Let’s Get It On for the millennial set and as confident a statement of artistic purpose as this messed-up year had to offer.

6. DOOM | Born Like This [Lex]
The metal-fingered supervillain may no longer be the novelty he once was when his masked live appearances (or, if you believe the rumors, his hand-selected imposters pulling one over on audiences and the rap game in general on stages the world over) set tongues wagging about his strange and tragic backstory as KMD’s Zev Love X, but the man known by his “government (handle) Daniel Dumile” still packs a verbal punch or two, tossing out tracks such as the shuffle-march “Ballskin” like knives and making sure suckas recognize the continued staying power of DOOM. (“All big letters but it isn’t no acronym.”)

7. Q-TIP | Kamaal The Abstract [ZLG/Battery/Red]
Seven years after it had been recorded, originally planned for release and then shelved, Kamaal The Abstract snuck through 2009’s back door in its Black Album disguise but really bears more in common with Kind Of Blue. A wildly experimental, horizon-expanding jazz album in but name only with some of the most inspired rapping by Tip.

8. MOBY | Wait For Me [Mute]
No matter what you think (or don’t) of his extreme Christian views or meat-is-murder POV, the urchin known as Richard Melville Hall to his family can still craft a killer tune with a heart-wrenching, tearjerking vocal like very few others on the planet. In what may be his best album since 1999’s Play (and the most understated work of his career), Wait For Me and its center-of-gravity killer track (“Walk With Me,” sung with passion and pulse by soul sister Leela James) makes a strong case for dance music heavy on the IQ scale.

9. RÖYKSOPP | Junior [Astralwerks]
In which the Norwegian producers/alchemists move deliberately away from the trip hop that initially defined them and toward a more club-friendly electronic pop (blitzkrieg bopper “Happy Up Here,” the Giorgio Moroder-indebted “The Girl And The Robot,” featuring a cameo from Swedish Eurodisco chanteuse Robyn) guaranteed to endear them to the after-midnight set. Intoxicating.

10. DIZZEE RASCAL | Tongue N Cheek [Dirtee Stank]
Maybe Dylan Mills’ mushmouthed, amphetamine-laced Brit-hop isn’t ultimately meant to cross over to these shores, but any album with cuts as frenetically hip-gyrating as “Bonkers” and the hilariously bold “Dance Wiv Me” (“I’m lookin’ for the perfect view/The way I see it that’s right next to you”) deserves its moment under the mirrorballs of the world.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 25, 2009 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. duBrowa,
    Ahhhh, the lexicon of love isn’t it? You nail it all once again and so well masterminded! One would think you left your family to board a plane every week or so to go and experience first hand what you write about…..maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not too far off I assume. Thank you for your insightful prose about a genre we all love to spend late nights getting sticky and sweaty to! Love the zine and love the massive pile of confectionaire’s sugar and glass of apple juice on the table.
    Happy New Year.
    Go Ducks.