Rarely has a genre name been as snicker-worthy and inaccurate as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). But the moniker's stuck, for better or for worse (mostly worse). Over the last decade, it's come to define a type of electronic music made mainly by and for the geekiest of the laptop-jockeying spectrum. Broadly speaking, IDM is marked by its undanceable rhythmic complexity, search for unusual tones, and penchant for distinctive, often unsettling atmospheres. It's not an insult to say that Seattle producer Splinters (AKA Ben Torrence, also in the duo Bookmobile) creates music that falls into this nebulous category; he's proved himself to be one of our most accomplished and distinctive sound sculptors.
Splinters' 2005 debut disc, Metal Petals, established him as one of America's foremost sonic miniaturists. On that disc, Splinters flashed his keen ability to craft touching, pensive melodies and to arrange minuscule, beguiling sounds you, sadly, never hear on the radio. On his stellar follow-up, The Watchmaker, Splinters expands his aural vocabulary, flaunting more daring, intricate rhythms and conjuring more bizarre textures. (Check the oddly spasmodic "Carwarsh" and "Rumspringa," plus the shimmery pulsations and gunned-engine vrooms of "Eszence" for striking evidence.) On "Rasterized," Splinters forges a tribute to Raster-Noton by emulating that awesome German label's molecular tonal swells and metronomic ratcheting. In the process, the disciple becomes the guru.
Throughout this well-wrought album, Splinters combines a scientist's acute ear for unconventional sounds with a mischief-maker's knack for absurd timbres. With The Watchmaker, it's clear that Torrence's time has come. DAVE SEGAL
Like his labelmate and fellow yayo-tunnel-visioned MC Rick Ross, Young Jeezy is a strange and new breed of rapper; often barely a lyricist at all, he gets over on sheer juggernaut ego projection. His flow is heavy and static, his tight-jawed voice leans way over the ropes into cartoonish audio ice grill, and his content is bludgeoningly single-minded. Where he shows more dimensionality than Ross, if not necessarily more sincerity, is his casting of his character and his work as a pure, all-American underdog story. While a shit-ton of rappers have dealt more vividly and viscerally with their elevation out of poverty and certain death via crime and music, Jeezy seeks to cast himself as a sort of übermensch of raw survival. On The Inspiration, his second record in as many years, he further hones his starkly defined row—his lyrics and the production are of such a consistent piece, it at times feels more like a time-capsule field recording than the work of a multimillion-selling modern artist.
The beats are universally epic and dark, an (even) emptier extrapolation of the gothic melodrama of Jay-Z's Black Album. The goal is cinematic, so it feels appropriate that the sickly synths of Scarface and the funereal fanfare of The Godfather are primary reference points. Jeezy's raps don't so much stand on their own as form weirdly symbiotic, interlocking relationships with his relentlessly overdubbed ad-libs. As the man says, at perhaps this record's peak of ridiculousness and inanity, "I ad-lib here, I ad-lib there/Fuck it—ad-libs everywhere." SAM MICKENS
Culturally spearheading the potentially looming major return of the Wu-Tang Clan (Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is due next year on Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, and the Clan's recent tour was reportedly amazing), Ghostface here finishes a stunning year with this goofily titled but strong sequel to March's astonishing Fishscale. Ghostface's crew, Theodore Unit, features more heavily on this record than the last, but there is still ample room, and appropriately deep contexts, for Ghost to go ape. Overall somewhat more lighthearted than the crack-vial-chewing Fishscale, More Fish feels more like the product of a great artist filled with the joy of his work and the relaxation of true, substantive success. The subject matter is, as expected from the prismatic, mind-spraying Ghost, all over the place. But he shows a well-groomed and smoothly powerful maturity in his trademark genres—street-casualty eulogizing ("Josephine"), venomous-girl straight-talking ("Greedy Bitches," "You Know I'm No Good"), and so-hardcore manic fits ("Blue Armor"). Furthermore, his Theodore Unit dudes shine more than ever before; perennial Ghost ally Trife Da God shows deftness at his boss's bug-eyed storytelling mode on "Miguel Sanchez," and the Redman-esque Sheek Louch proves an ample foil on "Blue Armor." The Unit get perhaps their first truly thrilling posse cut as well on the MF Doom–produced, epically parading "Guns N' Razors." Though not a platinum-certified artist these days, Ghostface is continuing to build an amazing body of work that should put other albums-deep, thirtysomething MCs to shame. SAM MICKENS