Berlin's coolest club fixtures crossed paths again to conceive one of 2006's chief electronic feats. Apparat's micro-glitch/strings-snippet signature meets Allien's sly electro songcraft to create a chic soundtrack for the post-modern age. The sleek circuitry is shorn of extraneous clatter, distilling elements to their purest form. Ellen's heavily-accented, hazy vocals drift across slippery, lacquered beats and chunky synth constellations on "Way Out" -- far and away, the most successful contender in the cavalry. Reserved but not cold, Orchestra is an urbane alternative to the generic oontz of mainstream techno.
Gavin Friday | Shag Tobacco
Former Virgin Prune Friday crowned his solo career with this exotic caravan of neo-cabaret numbers. Shag Tobacco unfolds like a two-part theater piece, with its roots firmly planted in the gilded gutters of pre-WW2 Berlin and the homoerotic heyday of 70s glam. Act 1 ushers in a slew of seductive slow-burners with an elegant feline gait. The sultry flavor lends itself to low-lit bars with red velvet upholstery and smoky tendrils pirouetting in midair. Gavin whispers softly in our ears like a high-brow lounge lizard, growing brassier with each syllable. Act 2 struts into the spotlight with a campy showstopper titled "Mr. Pussy" that packs an emotional wallop you won't see coming. The eclectic hodgepodge of instruments, moods and languages is streamlined by producer Tim Simenon, who added similar flair to Depeche Mode's Ultra. Shag Tobacco is the best 90s album you never heard.
Black Lung | The Great Architect
David Thrussell prepares an industrial sandwich with power noise crunch, ambient fizzle and delicious, bite-sized beats. The Great Architect is a compelling exploration of inner and outer space that bursts at the seams with boyish imagination. Heaving dump-truck blasts, robot zaps, mechanical pandemonium -- it's all here. These trinomial tracks bypass dull tweakery, remaining succinct and internally stable. A dazzling panoply of sonic experiments that snooty DJs can namedrop and B&T clubbers can embrace.
Lansing-Dreiden | The Dividing Island
The Dividing Island is a refreshingly lean pastiche that pays homage to clever songsmiths of eras past. This Brooklyn-based collective borrows blissed-out 60s psychedelia, somber 80s post punk and a touch of 70s soul to whip up an inspired blend that speaks to today's generation. "Our Hour" steals the show with sensitive echoed crooning reminiscent of Bryan Ferry and OMD's Andy McCluskey. No misfires here, only lush pop patchworks with style to spare. Fans of XTC's Skylarking: take note.
Matmos | A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure
This high-concept surgical symphony enchanted fickle critics and casual consumers alike -- and rightly so. The eccentric San Franciscan duo gleefully merge squirts, gurgles, slurps and gushes; all mined from the surreal locale of a plastic surgery clinic. Tongue firmly in cheek, they inject unlikely warmth into potentially gruesome subject matter. Quirky IDM trifles comprise the lion's share, but a seamy underbelly reveals itself on "L.A.S.I.K.", in which terrifying hospital din contorts maniacally and the mournful "For Felix (and all the rats)" which turns bagpipe-type howls, decrepit piano clangor and reverse-looped sounds into a marvelous avant-garde hymn. A Chance to Cut explores modern vanity rituals with humor and aplomb, making this one of the best theme albums to date.