The releases below are in contention for my year-end top-10 albums list. Allow me to explain why.
King Midas Sound, Waiting for You... (Hyperdub, www.hyperdub.net). Those who know British producer Kevin Martin from the Bug, Techno Animal, Ice, God, and other equilibrium-subverting projects will be shocked by the blissed-out tracks on Waiting for You.... Superbly assisted by Roger Robinson and Hitomi's pillow-talk-soft vocals, King Midas Sound delve into that rarely explored zone between Massive Attack and Tricky's smoldering triphop and Burial's stark, bruised-soul dubstep. Disc opener "Cool Out" sets the tone and does exactly that: easygoing, brothel-creeper skank with Robinson's creamy soul croon bearing the faintest wisp of Jamaica as a guitar rings in a minor key. Waiting for You... is the most languorous, accessible work Martin has done, but it's no sellout. Rather, it's the zenith of a seldom-plumbed facet of electronic music, a kind of hauntological lovers dub; "Meltdown" is the epitome of this, inducing a sense of dissolution with immeasurable longing. Even relatively up-tempo cuts like "Lost" and "Outer Space" move with languid, dream-logic grace. Waiting for You... enters your bloodstream like some miraculously beneficial strain of heroin. It hooked me from the first listen.
Emptyset, Emptyset (Caravan, www.myspace.com/multiversemedia). Emptyset (Bristol, England's James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas), by contrast, largely eschew emotional depth, focusing intently on a monomaniacal brand of stoic, steel-wool techno that's as pitiless as deep space. The album bears the Raster-Noton label's evocation of hospital-equipment whir and precision, but put in service of monochrome, dubwise techno that seems especially attuned to a sort of Plutonian desolation. The 10 tracks on Emptyset burrow into your brain with a cool-browed, methodical, and, frankly, scary intensity.
Demdike Stare, Symbiosis (Modern Love, www.modern-love.co.uk). Yet more Brits, Manchester's Demdike Stare (Miles Whitaker of Pendle Coven and Sean Canty of Finders Keepers Records) create dark-ambient miasmas that embody some of the most arresting qualities of hauntology and dubstep, without staking a flag too solidly in either camp. Symbiosis peaks on "Haxan," a reverby smear of Chain Reaction–like ominousness, and its dub version, a cavernous, crackly cut that sounds like Monolake remixing Scorn in an icy cave. We're not in Kingston anymore, Jah damn it.
Matias Aguayo, Ay Ay Ay (Kompakt, www.kompakt.fm). Leave it to the Chilean to bring some welcome sunniness to this column. Ay Ay Ay finds Aguayo using his own voice as primary pleasure-provider over 11 tech-house tracks. The album is akin to Dave Aju's Open Wide, with quirky percussion and bass sounds emanating from this savvy producer's mouth, as well as conventional if whimsical vocals, all of which are layered and leveraged for skewed, world-music-y festiveness and ass-shaking hedonism. Ay is gimmicky, yes, but it's so wondrously executed, so melodically and rhythmically infectious, that this usual sticking point is rendered moot. Aguayo here provokes more smiles per beat than anyone in techno history.