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Jack Dangers: Hello Friends (Shadow). Toasted, nicely toasted. Lifting a quote from Jack Dangers' highly entertaining mix CD Hello Friends, toasted seems to be the best way to enjoy the fifteen-track opus from the legendary breakbeat master behind Meat Beat Manifesto. Though MBM isn't quite dead, it's clear Dangers' attention has been focused on the dub leanings of Tino Corp. Hello Friends is comprised of previously released tracks on vinyl from Dangers, Tino, Ben Stokes' DHS, and Mike Powell. The result, while not necessarily technically perfect, is a beat fiend's wet dream, as Dangers slides effortlessly from the mambo-fused "Tropical Soul/Tino's Beat" to the tongue-in-cheek head-nodder "Christmas in Hawaii" or the gleaming Latin groove of "Kick It Dub" (featuring a hilarious sample from Charlie's Angels). Don't miss Cuban maestro Tino and his amazing drumming abilities on the bonus video track! What a joy!

Richie Hawtin: DE9: Closer to the Edit (Minus/NovaMute). Richie Hawtin has been at the forefront of confronting new technology since debuting in the early 1990s with FUSE and his most well-known moniker, Plastikman. His sparse and mechanical sound influenced many producers, emphasizing space and substance over predictability by de-emphasizing melody. Yet his recent material has seemed more about technical skill than substance. But on DE9, Hawtin raises the bar for himself and all electronic musicians with a jaw-dropping mix CD that brings back the subtle funkiness of his early material with an intricate yet minimal 21st-century flair. DE9 is attracting headlines because of a new technology called Final Scratch, which enables the user to "play" a digital music file via a specially made blank vinyl record. Featuring 31 actual "tracks" from a slew of Detroit artists, the album actually contains hundreds of loops and snippets from more than one hundred tracks by such artists as Carl Craig, Theorem, Basic Channel, Stewart Walker, and many others. The result is an amazingly complex album that is still seeping into my brain months after its release.

Herbert: Bodily Functions (!K7/Soundslike). The trend of the year was taking sampling to the next level by using unconventional sounds such as surgery, random conversations, and breaking plastic. On Bodily Functions, Matthew Herbert marries unlikely field recordings with warm and inviting jazz arrangements (using such live instrumentation as piano, stand-up bass, clarinet, violin, flute, and trumpet) and thumping house beats amidst a recurring theme about human interaction. The result is one of the most uniquely satisfying albums of the year. Indeed, Dani Siciliano's luxurious vocals provide the perfect counterpart to Herbert's sensuous, propulsive music. If nothing else, this is a great way to introduce jazz snobs to electronic music. Tasty.

Prefuse 73: Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp). Prefuse 73 is one of the pseudonyms of Atlanta's Scott Herren, a hip-hop head with a jones for cutting up beats and loops and rearranging them in a zig-zag aural patchwork that manages to make sense. Landing somewhere between downtempo hip-hop, IDM, and jazz, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives carves out a style all its own via fuzzy, fractured beats and chopped-up half-beats, rickety breaks and ticking percussion, wobbly horn loops, flatulent synths that burp and burble, and disorienting vocal clips. Contributors -- including Mikah 9, MF Doom, Aesop Rock, and post-rock vocalist Sam Prekop -- are blended into the mix, used as another aural component rather being the focal point. The vibe is fairly low-key throughout, but the multifarious, flickering groove manages to satisfy both hip-hop headz and laptop geeks alike. And when does that ever happen? If this is where hip-hop is headed, I'm on the right train.

Stacey Pullen: Today Is the Tomorrow You Were Promised Yesterday (Science). More than three years in the making, celebrated Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen moves away from his buoyant, soulful techno and house associated with pseudonyms such as Silent Phase and Kosmic Messenger. Here he comes into his own with this startling full-length debut. Melding the stark elements of Detroit techno (a hint of sadness and despair hangs over much of the album) with brisk percussive fills, rapid-fire snares, and dense beat arrangements that point toward jazz, the album is accented by a plethora of lush, sparkling keyboards that effectively set the tone throughout. Though associated with the recent proliferation of the nu-jazz broken beat sound popular in the UK, Today is more a reflection of Pullen's desire to make an unique and experimental album from a jazz drummer's perspective. Whether incorporating elements of opera (in the haunting "Vertigo"), subtle funk and R&B, or banging hard house, Pullen's scintillating album delivers.

Ursula Rucker: Supa Sista (!K7). This was the triumphant year for spoken word goddess Ursula Rucker, as she moved from being a well-known talent in her native Philadelphia to a full-blown international star. Previously best known for her stirring and troubling poems that closed the last two Roots albums, Rucker eliminates a predisposed aversion to spoken word with the raw, emotive album Supa Sista. Combining forces with several producers (including 4 Hero's Dego McFarlane, Jonah Sharp, King Britt, Alexkid, and Philip Charles), Supa Sista seethes with anger and fury as Rucker addresses tough social topics such as domestic violence, poverty, drug abuse, racism, and sexism. Her eloquent vocals are accentuated thanks to the album's spare production, combining hip-hop, jazz, drum 'n' bass, and soul in a smooth style that never overpowers Rucker's forthright intonations.

Slicker: The Latest (Hefty). The Latest, by Chicago's Slicker (John Hughes, who also runs the Hefty label) is a crackly noise-trip of supernova proportions, set at armchair impulse power speed. Taking a side- door exit from the post-rock experimental world of his previous work, Slicker here gravitates toward a downbeat, abstract blend of digital and organic musical matter that fluctuates between IDM, glitch, and 21st-century jazz. Featuring guest appearances from the cerebral electronic duo Matmos (on the nimble "Swap Track") and other Hefty labelmates, The Latest challenges the listener through a series of minimal shifts in time and tone, creating an aural atmosphere that's refreshingly chilly and spatial.
--By Tim Pratt

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