The best (and worst) of 2010

Once again, great music comes to clubland's rescue.

KEEP HOLDEN ON And why not? His mix-CD tops our list.

KEEP HOLDEN ON And why not? His mix-CD tops our list.

The best

1 James Holden DJ-Kicks (!K7) Holden's set of pastoral, near-pagan techno is a gorgeous exercise in electronic atmospherics.

2 Darkstar North (Hyperdub) A touch bleak, yet wistful and ultimately hopeful, North is a near-perfect merging of melancholic synth-pop and minimalist art-rock.

3 Matthew Dear "Little People (Black City) (Mark E Dub Version)" (Ghostly International) The best cut from Dear's dystopian, Bowie-esque Black City LP gets the dream-state treatment from the master of discoid linearism.

4 Arthur's Landing "Is It All Over My Face" (Chinatown) This revamped version of Arthur Russell's Paradise Garage classic transforms the original into a surreal and sultry slow-burn torch song.

5 Various artists Zen and the Art of Disco (Tirk) This ultra-fun collection of contemporary disco reinforces Tirk's position as the style's leading label.

6 Various artists Permanent Vacation: Selected Label Works, Vol. 2 (Permanent Vacation) Then again, Tirk might have to duke it out with the Balearic-kissed Permanent Vacation imprint for that title.

7 Four Tet There Is Love in You (Domino) With its bubbling synths, spiky percussion and ethereal, fractured vocal samples, Kieren Hebden's latest is ecstatic and heavenly.

8 Walter Gibbons Jungle Music (Strut) Reedit pioneer Gibbons gets his due with a collection of percussion-heavy experiments in super-funky '70s dance music.

9 Shackleton Fabric 55 (Fabric) Sam Shackleton's solo set is an otherworldly jaunt through a postdubstep, posttechno dreamscape.

10 Soul Clap R&B Edits EP (W+L Black) Our dumb-fun pick of the year is worth it for hearing R.Kelly croon about vegetables and potatoes over an utterly creamy deep-house beat.

The worst

The ascendance of commercial dubstep
With the genre's predilection for unpredictable mutation, it was natural that a branch of dubstep would move away from the sound's roots toward something approaching mainstream status. Such is the nature of underground music, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But somewhere along the line, its big-room-minded producers forgot what made dubstep cool in the first place and turned a beautiful style into something banal, hamfisted and downright depressing. Even more depressing—people love it.

Report card

It's been another year of ups and downs in NYC clubland. District 36 prepares to open; when it finally does, it's forced to limit capacity by the powers that be. Industrious promoters toss dance parties in secret-location loft and warehouse spaces; the city shuts those secret locations down. Hotel-lounge parties with very cool music are on the rise; we now have to party in hotel lounges? Those places are expensive! But there were a couple of things that warmed our hearts, the first being the revenge of Plant Bar, the beloved bote closed by the antidancing squad in 2003: Its former proprietors, the Glass's Dominique Keegan and Marcus "Shit Robot" Lambkin, both released excellent albums. And Gotham labels like Wurst, Rong, Disques Sinthomme, Hidden Recordings and (of course) the mighty DFA continued to garner worldwide laurels. Whatever the case, there isn't any other B- world we'd rather live in.

Final grade: B-

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