X-Factor Volume One (Astralwerks). London producer and remixer Richard X was behind 2002’s “bootleg” phenomenon, whereby D.J.’s and producers made sonic collages out of unlikely pairings (Christina Aguilera and the Strokes!). In the hands of amateurs, it was as forgettable as it sounds, but Richard X managed to make bootlegs artful and surprising (one of his best mixed the Human League’s “Being Boiled” and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”). His debut is full of such smart moves, and the connections he draws between white and black music are instructive: By sampling the productions of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis so heavily, Richard X seems to be saying to the white electronica set that black R&B producers were just as futuristic as New Wavers, if not more so. But it’s the handful of non-bootlegs that make the biggest mark. He pulls off a spectacular cover of “Walk On By,” placing ambient synth sounds and the cry of seagulls behind the affectless vocals of former Flying Lizard singer Deborah Evans Stickland. Both sad and funny, the song is a testament to Richard X’s unique powers: He can drag life out of even the most well-worn standards.
Afro Finger and Gel (Tigersushi). Next to OutKast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, this is the strangest, most radical, most shock-of-the-new album of the year so far. Mu producer Maurice Fulton conjures a swirl of sounds: organ playing that’s reminiscent of both gospel music and Stax Records productions; thumpy trap-drum-set beats; electro-style synth burrs. Vocalist Matsumi Kanamori (Fulton’s wife) is his perfect foil. She sounds alternately like a growly dominatrix or a giggly teen from the pages of Cutie. And she spouts enough mispronunciations to rival Lost in Translation (“Roll a big fat spreef!”). The album’s relentless eccentricity can be wearying, but one song, “Chair Girl,” makes even the most self-indulgent moments forgivable. Its skittering synth lines and eerie vocals (a looped “whoooo” that seems to hover over the song) make it as memorable as oddball instrumental classic “Plastic Dreams,” by Jaydee. Mu isn’t likely to crack any charts, but we’ll still be grappling with—and dancing to—its weird inspiration years from now.