Dec 31, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: one

 Syro  Aphex Twin (Warp)

The bulldozer of journalistic detritus that accompanied Aphex Twin's comeback album made listening to it something akin to pressing a portable radio to your ear while inside a car crusher. Great beats, you’d think, while bent gearsticks and battered pistons snapped your bones. I like the sounds, you’d mumble from inside your compressed cube of waste metal.

Comment pieces, inked hyperbole; so much noise online. It left me unable to think, unable to register its true significance. Of course I’ll make this the number one. It’s what should happen, right?

So I allowed space. I listened to a bit of Richard Clayderman instead. I listened to a smidgeon of Paolo Nutini. A snatch of One Direction.

Actually, this is all lies, but I did put the album aside so I could return to it fresh. And what an album. It’s beguiling, teasing, melodic and beautiful. It's the Aphex grin writ large, but without the nastiness: the cheeky shuffles in Minipops; the twisted g-funk of Circlont6a, the loose, knowing percussion of Produk 29, the optimistic ambience of Papat4. (Forgive the heavily-subbed track titles.)

His waspish processing may sound unsettled, and it’s certainly ordered into 32-bar sequences rather than traditional song structure, but the strength of Syro is in James’ pursuit of melody and then following that melody to captivating conclusions. S950tx16wasr10 is busy, but its notes are that of the first Selected Ambient Works. Circlont14 is all about the descending harmonies. Xmas_Evet10 made me so melancholic, I've burnt my Christmas decs along with my (non-existent!) Nutini CDs.

This isn't the product of a decade's silence: he's been sneaking these tracks into live sets for ages. In the simplest terms, Syro is very, very, [insert hyperbolic verbage and fire up the bulldozer] good.

Great beats. I like the sounds. Welcome back, Rich.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Thanks for reading. Revisit the top ten best electronic albums of 2014 by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2014: two

 Clark  Clark (Warp)

You might need a lighthouse for this one, because the clouds are rolling in.

This is Clark’s uncompromising seventh album where the creaking wrath of opener Ship Is Flooding spreads throughout the album, threatening the brisk Unfurla, washing over the beatless Beacon, and engulfing everything on There’s A Distance In You. We are never allowed too far from that source, despite many entertaining distractions: dismembered choirboys on Snowbird, the Lone-style chops of Silvered Iris, the shimmering yet angry epic Winter Linn.

Sonically, it works best as a sister album to Turning Dragon or Totems Flare, but somewhere here, submerged in analogue murk, is his strongest intent yet. Stick your head above the gloom and allow yourself this moment of clarity: Clark is probably Warp’s most significant artist, matching Squarepusher in album output.

But while his Squareness spit-polishes his jazzy LEDS, Chris Clark plunges ever deeper depths and remains blisteringly entertaining.

[Click here for the full top ten]

A special mention

Before I tie up the loose ends of those that didn't quite make it into this year's top ten, there's something I want to point out. In 2014, we lost two incredible talents: Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot and LFO's Mark Bell. I hope, over the years, this blog has celebrated innovation and passion in music. When that passion is cut short, a bit of all of us withers.

I joke about the '27 club', but sometimes the gap between here and there is a thin place, and life is fragile. My own life is coloured with grief more than my stupid humour would perhaps suggest, so to family, friends and fans of Nick and Mark, I mourn with you.

Some also-rans

Right. Time to execute the final stragglers before we lead into the number one album of 2014. (See? Stupid humour.) Caustic Window used Kickstarter to give us an archive album that was an interesting artefact if not the best example of, erm, thingummy's work. I loved, loved, loved Lee Bannon's robust junglism on Alternate/Endings (Ninja Tune). There was much to admire in DJ Q's dancefloor-friendly Ineffable (Local Action). And finally, I was sorry not to include the following: Rustie's Green Language (Warp) which lost the spark of his previous work, Caribou's Our Love (City Slang) which had so much good stuff (Can't Do Without You), and Luke Abbott's Wysing Forest (Border Community), which lacked the immediacy of his previous work.

Stay tuned for the number one. Although you've probably worked it out by now.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 30, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: three

 Kiasmos  Kiasmos (Erased Tapes)

Featuring a BAFTA winner – Olafur Arnald –makes me want to scrub my blog with a scouring pad. Even though Kiasmos was seven years in gestation, it all seems so mainstream. A house beat, some gentle piano, touches of intensity. Maybe it’s a fading echo of last year’s top album. So much logic working against this. And yet...

Feel the energy on Looped. The bite of Burnt. Let it hook behind your ribcage and flutter your organs. Can you feel it? It’s a close, personal album; snare drums are swapped for finger clicks.

Less is more. You'll play this to bits.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

Venetian Snares, bless his cotton elks, delivered an absolute tune with the title track of My Love Is A Bulldozer (Planet Mu). A bit more chilled was Gunnar Haslam's ambient and organic Mirrors and Copulation (L.I.E.S.). Prins Thomas evoked old cinema with disco on his Prins Thomas III (Full Pupp). Actress' Ghettoville (Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune) was too fuzzy-edged, while Actress collaborator Copeland went pleasingly Tricky-like on Because I'm Worth It (self-released). Cristian Vogel's Polyphonic Beings (Shitkatapult) was a little too academic and weird. I didn't include the chuffing excellent FKA Twigs and LP1 (Young Turks) because it was too singer-songwriter for this list. And - drumroll - the worst album of 2014 was Roni Size's Take Kontrol (Mansion Sounds). Half-cocked, mind-numbing dull 'n' bass: he's capable of so much better.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: four

 Lone  Reality Testing (R&S Records)

Lone’s best album to date only finds itself at number four because 2014 saw some serious competition for a place in this chart.

There’s a cartoonish quality to Reality Testing’s choppy space music, but there’s depth too: listen to him channel Rae & Christian on 2 is 8, or the spirit of urbanity evoked in Aurora Northern Quarter. There’s even poetry (from Shawn Powers) on Stuck. And drizzled over the distractive Detroit beats is the same kind of melancholia Brian Eno once gave earnest rock bands: a new tone for Lone.

As the voice boldly proclaims on Airglow Fires: “wut!”

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

I enjoyed Application's System Fork (Dust Science Recordings), but how could I not? It's The Black Dog. Also not in the top ten is Manchester royalty Illum Sphere's lush Ghosts Of Then And Now (Ninja Tune). The minimal machines of Powell's Powell 11-14 (Diagonal) sent a buzz down my spine. A highlight of 2014 was Traxman's bold footwork stylings of Da Mind Of Traxman, Vol.2 (Planet Mu) ("hey you, blow your whistle!"), and I also found myself won over by instrumental grime, especially Slackk's Palm Tree Fire (Local Action) and Mr. Mitch's likeable Parallel Memories. And Kanye and Twigs-producing Arca made a good case for this whole charade being a top 20 with Xen (Mute).

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: five

 Objekt  Flatland (PAN)

This appears to be a band name designed by committee. Still, the dark breaks and snarling techno of Objekt’s Flatland demonstrate a production control and singularity of vision I’ve not heard since Flying Lotus’ early work.

The menacing lope of Dogma, the busy electro of Ratchet, the retro techno disco of album highlight Strays: this is more than just atmospherics and delay. It’s control. It’s precision.

It’s Aphexian entertainment from the underbelly of electronic music that's certainly not for everyone, but with more musicality than you’d expect considering its bleakness, Flatland is everything a techno album should be in 2014.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

A very significant omission from this year's top ten is Flying Lotus because, despite the dizzying delight of You're Dead! (Warp), he's ploughing a jazz furrow I'm not inclined to walk down. No space here either for Perc's nice and nasty The Power And The Glory (Perc Trax). Mr Scruff had his first studio album for five years with Friendly Bacteria (Ninja Tune), but he was one of several Ninja Tune artists that didn't make the cut, all of whom produced output that didn't match their last offering: Machinedrum's Vapor City Archives (Ninja Tune), FaltyDL's In The Wild (Ninja Tune) and Martyn's The Air Between Words (Ninja Tune). Wow. That's some big names ticked off. Oh and cheese, cheese, spray-on cheese put me off two great artists: Todd Terje's It's Album Time (Olsen Records) and Shit Robot's otherwise fun We Got A Love (DFA).

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 29, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: six

 Plaid  Reachy Prints (Warp)

So far, this top ten has been dour. Not without soul, but certainly moody. Thank goodness for Plaid.

Their tenth album in 25 years has a light touch, perhaps their lightest and most listenable, and it arrives in the wake of orchestral collaborations that have perhaps encouraged a few theatrics. So we have jingling bells, swooping dynamics, and an Orbitalesque earworm in Matin Lunaire.

Reachy Prints grew on me slowly. It’s better when it’s toned down, where the pleasure is found in the subtleties and not the hooks. But I’ve found myself returning to it repeatedly. Such is their genius.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

There are a number of collaborative projects that didn't make my top ten this year. The Bug's comeback album Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune) received rave reviews, but I wasn't quite convinced by the vocalists on offer. Even less successful were the vocals on SBTRKT's disappointing Wonder Where We Land (Young Turks). Shame. Royksopp's probable swansong The Inevitable End (Dog Triumph/Wall Of Sound) was a little too coffee-table, although I love their partnership with Robyn. Two of my heroes, Eno / Hyde, gave us Someday World and High Life (Warp) which left me cold. Also-ran nods go to the heroin r’n’b of Matthewdavid's In My World (Brainfeeder), the Walls / Daphne Oram library reworking Sound Houses (Ecstatic), and Com Truise's so-so Wave 1 (Ghostly International) which was probably more an EP than an album.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: seven

 Kassem Mosse   Workshop 19 (Workshop)

Tinkle tinkle tinkle. Donk. Pootle pootle. Spap.

That’s the sound of Gunnar Wendell’s debut album as Kassem Mosse. Stripped down percussion with trap influences meets techno-infused house with a result that is surprisingly catchy, all underpinned with a club urgency. He works with a limited analogue sound range but still manages massive keyboard riffs, stomping builders*, throbbing acid and tinkling ambience.

The record gets darker the further in you get, so perhaps the tension dissipates, but the result is way more than the sum of its deep house parts. Finally, he has an album to suit his enviable live reputation.

* Not actual builders stomping their feet, obviously. I was going to clarify this within the paragraph, but I'm trying to keep these reviews to exactly 100 words. These words don't count as part of that. Ignore all these words. Ignore them. Move on.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

Here are some more albums that didn't make the top ten. Fhloston Paradigm's The Phoenix (Hyperdub) was cinematic yet erratic, while in contrast, Cooly G's vocal-heavy Wait 'Til Night (Hyperdub) was too straight laced for me. Steffi's Detroit-drizzled second album Power Of Anonymity (Ostgut Ton) was certainly in the running this year. A few house albums: Session Victim's See You When You Get There (Delusions of Grandeur) had way too many bongos; Mr. Oizo's The Church (Brainfeeder) is as head noddy as you remember his yellow puppet being; Mark E's Product Of Industry (Spectral Sound) pretty much sounded like Mark E. The bloke from Shed gave us fantastic bass-heavy simplicity with Head High's Megatrap (Power House), and I had real fun with the horro techno on Gesloten Cirkel's Submit X (Murder Capital). Finally for this segment, I have a real soft spot for Jungle. Their eponymous debut (XL Recordings) was all sorts of pleasant but a bit too thin for a long player.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: eight

 Call Super – Suzi Ecto (Houndstooth)

This is probably the only record in the top ten on which the artist’s dad has tooted a clarinet.

Suzi Ecto is Call Super’s debut album, and it’s full of drifting, organic pop-length explorations with real world sounds and real instruments. There is experimentation, for example the chirrups fighting with biting synths on Rosso Dew or the stuttering chimes on Fold Again At Last.

But amid the hisses and the crunches, amid the wooziness, there is more to grab onto than is first apparent. This album left me feeling we’re in a new classic era of ambient techno. Actually super.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

A couple of Call Super labelmates didn't make the cut, specifically the heavy production of the songs on Throwing Snow's Mosaic (Houndstooth) and the low-rolling bass notes of Second Storey's Double Divide (Houndstooth). Vessel chopped up bicycles to make Punish, Honey (Tri Angle), but the results weren't as techno as I'd hoped. There was much to like with the precise electronics of Thug Entrancer's Death After Life (Software Recording Co.). Brilliant grimester Wen missed out on the top ten by a millimetre with his excellent Signals (Keysound) - he's probably 11th on the list. Luke Vibert was back with Ridmik (Hypercolour), showing you 303 ways to manipulate a 303. I always expected Plastikman's live album EX (Mute) to be in the top ten, but this expansive and epic LP ended up at about the 15 to 20 mark. And bless him, but Tycho's Awake (Ghostly International), his follow-up to 2011's memorable Dive, was too caught between being accessible post-rock and something you could sing Coldplay to.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 28, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: nine

– Slam – Reverse Proceed (Soma)

You know when Limmy says “where’s the Slam Tent?” and we all laugh? Here are the curators of the actual tent he’s talking about. Nearly 20 years after their pulsating single Positive Education rocked dancefloors, the Glasgow duo’s fifth album is a luxurious slab of classic ambience leading into tweaking acid thumpers that kick their hardware sequencers in the shins and then some.

While fellow godfathers of dance may have gone disco or prog (yawn), Slam keep the bass drum at the fore. A complete journey with a single focus on driving, tuneful, hypnotic techno.

Here, Limmy. It’s right here.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

Dorian Concept produced a likeable, dynamic electronic pop album with Joined Ends (Ninja Tune). Taylor Mcferrin's Early Riser (Brainfeeder) had a little too much smooth soul for my taste, while Skrillex's Recess (Big Beat) didn't even get a play because it had too much Skrillex for my taste. The simple bleeps of DMX Krew's Reith Trax (Rush Hour) didn't make the top ten despite being recorded on a farm. No space for the textured, messy ESTOILE NAIANT (Warp) by Patten either. Finally for this segment, the following albums were a little too pastoral: Barnt's tappy EBM album Magazine 13 (Magazine), Loscil's coastal found sounds on Sea Island (Kranky) and Teebs' organic and glistening E s t a r a (Brainfeeder).

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: ten

10 – Untold – Black Light Spiral (Hemlock Recordings) 

Sonic destroyer Untold prowls the basement of the music scene. Sometimes he pops up to work with the likes of LV, Roska and R&S Records, but he mostly prowls the sewers picking up scraps of dubstep and fashioning them into spiky, confident bass music such as his 2009 work for Hotflush Recordings.

His long-awaited debut album was, therefore, a curveball. Who knew that underneath the sewers were darker, more dangerous paths? On Black Light Spiral, we hear distorted electrocution (Strange Dreams), steamrollered reggae (Sing A Love Song) and Babadookian house horror (Doubles).

All confidence gone: just introversion and overwhelming malevolence.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

There are so many albums that didn't make the top ten. I'll attempt to list most of them.

Untold's other album Echo in the Valley (self-released) was a bit too experimental to be in the top ten. It was released on a USB stick y'know. I enjoyed the spectacularly-named Hieroglyphic Being And The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio's The Seer Of Cosmic Visions (Planet Mu), and part of me was in awe his second moniker I.B.M and the dense Eat My F*ck (Mathematics). More no-fi than lo-fi. Russell Haswell's noisy 37 Minute Work Out was inspired, it seems, by Paul Morley (Diagonal). Vladislav Delay returned to ambient on Visa (Ripatti Label), as did Function & Vatican Shadow on Games Have Rules (Hospital Records), although in a more industrial way. There was more claustrophobic murk on Ital's Endgame (Planet Mu), while labelmate Ekoplekz's Unfidelity (Planet Mu) may have had my favourite track title of the year ("Robert Rental") but its metallic noise didn't entirely click with me. Finally, I disqualified A Winged Victory For The Sullen 's Atomos (Erased Tapes) for being too classical, which is ridiculous because one of the top ten albums to come is definitely more than a little bit classical. Silly Fats.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: introduction

I have decided. My top ten list of the best electronic albums of 2014 is complete. I think. Yes. Yes it is.

I have missed some big names out. I have surprised myself at the ones I have kept in. It is perhaps the most miserable top ten so far (it's my sixth year of doing this), but if you like desolation, despair and the futility of life, then you're in for a thigh-slapping, grin-twinkling treat.

My stinking, bloodied top ten will drip onto your computer rather than splurge out all at once: there will be ten posts after this, from now until New Year's Eve. All you need to do to keep track of all the posts is click on this group label here.

Edit: the top ten is now complete:

10 - Untold
9 - Slam
8 - Call Super
7 - Kassem Mosse
6 - Plaid
5 - Objekt
4 - Lone 
3 - Kiasmos
2 - Clark
1 - Aphex Twin
Click for the whole top ten.

Meanwhile, check out the previous years' lists. Several of these people had new albums in 2014. Will there be a first double number-one artist?

- Jon Hopkins winning 2013;

- Andy Stott winning 2012, alongside Lone;

- Rustie winning 2011;

- Mount Kimbie winning 2010, although in retrospect I should have chosen Luke Abbott;

- Clark winning 2009.

Dec 23, 2014

Six drummers drumming

I'm working on my end-of-year best album list. It may need to be cut down this year as it was in 2013, but I'll still try and do it. My top ten albums of the year is currently a list of 70 (with a realistic shortlist of 28).

Meanwhile, it's Christmas. A time for old folks to sit around and knit Christmas jumpers or to crochet pictures of Santa Claus.

So who's this guy? What is Richard O'Brien doing with the decorations?

And why is there a hipster messing with the tree?

Enjoy this music video. It's Swedish without subtitles but if you don't speak the language, it doesn't matter. Happy Christmas, and thanks for reading the blog - what little there was of it - in 2014.