Dec 31, 2019

Best electronic albums of 2019: one

1 – Plaid – Polymer (Warp Records)

I've plopped on about Plaid on this website many times in the past. They're no stranger to this end-of-year listing, appearing at number three in 2011, at number six in 2014 and at number two in 2016. In 2019, they finally take the title of Best Electronic Music Album of the Year. Congratulations, boys, you did it. You can finally retire. Pipe and slippers.

Polymer is modern Plaid's masterpiece. In recent years, they've tended towards the pastoral, but now they've descended into a valley of darkness. They've scuffed their shiny bits, sandpapered their synths, creosoted their balls and given melody a good old duffing up. It's spiky enough to deter casual listeners, but if you don't mind a few scrapes during repeated listens, it's their most rewarding album for many years.

As the synthetic hairiness of their album artwork suggests, this work is a true polymer: part organic and part android. Los squeaks and snarls as if snapping at the bars of cage and yet it's bedded by the blinking lights of robotic synth patter. The disembodied vowels of Ops spill from some unknown belly but when the track soars, its chimes skitter with clockwork regularity. The detailed patter of the beautiful Dancers is both flesh and machine in extremis.

Each track has its 'thing', as each tangled motif stretches its shoulders. Drowned Sea gets so het up, at the three-quarter mark it collapses into sparkles. All To Get To Her quickly locks into a classic looping Plaid pattern. The shuffly Nurula revives The Bee's nifty guitar-work from The Digging Remedy. And Dust is their version of a lullaby despite ubiquitous synth blaps constantly threatening to bite off your hand.

So many times during Polymer, I find myself holding my breath as the band raise Hitchockian levels of tension, and they know exactly when to press the release valve. Only on the percussive attack of Recall does there seem to be no hope, but even that track melts into ambience after two minutes, which makes sense in the context of the album's softer second half. It all fits.

Best of all, this is a Plaid album that feels angry, raising their complicated post-IDM noodlings to the heights of justified emotion, and in turn adding even more heart to the more traditional Plaid melodics. I don't need to tell you the reasons to feel furious in 2019, but I'm glad this album was here for some psychosynthetic succour.

Thanks for reading this mega list, and for reading my blog in 2019. Fifteen years and counting! Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: two

2 – Pelada – Movimiento Para Cambio (Pan)

Let's listen to the opening track together. There's the thump-thump of a bass drum. It's joined by a stuttering synth. Here come some finger snaps, but wait, something's happening. Are they speaking Spanish? Yes, I think it's Spanish. They're not stopping for breath. The beat drops. They start yelling. Oh my crap, the voice.

This is Pelada.

There is no album in 2019 that has side-swiped me more than Movimiento Para Cambio, which means "movement for change". Politics runs through Pelada's veins, as any lazy google-translating of their lyrics will attest to. Proper slacktivist, me.

It's also musically a rich experience. I love the snap of Habla Tu Verdad, the soft melt of Granadilla and the glorious stadium techno reverb of Aquí.  I flipping love everything. It's Canadian Chicago house in Spanish, via New York punk and 1990s dance music.

Put the production and politics together and you get this strange Robin S-tinction Rebellion pairing. And what a pair. The fierce vocals of Chris Vargas are alarming and may send some running for the hills, but their arresting energy constantly delights. Producer Tobias Rochman clearly bathes daily in dance music history: the album has the same try-it-and-see bedroom production vibe that made, for example, Bjork’s Debut so charming.

Now let's stop listening to the opening track together. Why are you even sat on my lap? Weirdo.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: three

3 – Loraine James – For You And I (Hyperdub)

For You And I is the sound of London bustle, of coming out of basement clubs, of tube stations shuttering their doors, of a queer life in a contemporary capital. Apparently. I don't live in London. In Manchester, we don't go on tubes, we just swagger with our maracas.

This freewheeling collage of broken bass music gets more compelling with every listen. The drum sounds are as loose as a bag of nuts: cheese-grated cymbals and strangled toms collide with precarious snares that rattle the walls of the album.

It's like being parachuted into a leftfield techno metropolis without a map, but that's not to say there aren't familiar touchpoints as we hear Loraine's story. Scraping My Feet has some serious Aphexian melancholy. There's something Autechresque about the scrunched rhythms of So Scared. And London Ting is pure grime bravado – "look at my skin!" – told through a tough techno lens.

All this on a debut album. Remarkable. As broad as London itself, it's one moment brutal, the next moment tender, all of it uneasy, all of it compelling. A boundary-breaking statement that's queer by nature and queer by noise. *shakes maracas*

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: four

4 – Chemical Brothers – No Geography (Virgin EMI) 

Of course No Geography's in my top five. Of course! It's the best Chemical Brothers album for ages. It's full of pow-pow and chug-chug and build-build and wooh-wooh and slam-slam and Tian Tian. Actually, that last one might be a panda. You get the idea, though.

It's moment after moment of sheer clubbing energy. The robo-electro of Free Yourself! The power-snare roll on Gravity Drops! The old block-rockin' Chemicals showing themselves on the acidic We've Got To Try! Don your gold pants and get on that dancefloor and/or coffee table.

The album is accompanied by a spectacular live show which has Tom and Ed at their career best. MAH's Network-style rant of "I ain't gonna take it no more!" is all the more powerful because I can picture the big arm-wavy guy from the show. But you don't need the visuals: just on its own, for example, the "you and me" speech on title track No Geography rattled my heart strings.

There are no big guest vocalists: just the pow-pow and the build-build. It's pure uncut Chemicals. See what I did there? That's a drugs reference. Not that I know: the most I can manage these days is an extra spoonful of hot choc in my Highlights. If I know anything, it's how to make my drinks claggy.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: lovely earworm soup

For the last time in this best albums countdown, let's park the rollercoaster for a moment and smell the candyfloss. Here's a longlist of music heavyweights who failed to make the final cut: they're totally good and brilliant, but I kicked them to the kerb like a sassy Simon Cowell.

First up in this best-of-the-rest is Kornél Kovács and the thoroughly likeable Stockholm Marathon (Studio Barnhus). What starts as sugar-sweet vocal pop becomes a sun-glazed soup of instrumental  earworm after instrumentalearworm. Not that I'd drink a soup filled with worm ears. It sounds disgusting.

Jacques Greene got his epic on for Dawn Chorus (LuckyMe), which balanced the bright boldness of Jamie Xx and the scuzzed darkness of Clark. Jenny Hval dived into some sparkly electronics on The Practice Of Love (Sacred Bones Records), a seventh studio album fired off while writing a novel – hashtag multitasking. And Signals Into Space (Les Disques du Crépuscule) was the soft-focus return of Ultramarine, techno's answer to Channel 4's Watercolour Challenge.

The ever-filmic Amon Tobin was in an ambient mood on the intricate Fear In A Handful of Dust (Nomark). Flying Lotus was as generous and as overwhelming as ever on Flamagra (Warp Records), a work pepped up with a strange appearance by David Lynch. And although I thought Modeselektor's Who Else (Monkeytown Records) was a mixed affair, there was enough fried gold to make this longlist.

And finally here are some giants of electronic music who I've consumed in small portions in 2019, but haven't absorbed enough to include in my final list. Because I can't knowingly give full recommendations, I shall describe each album with a meaningless simile. James Blake's Assume Form (Universal Music) was like a hot toaster on a day trip to a dog-strewn beach. Hot Chip's A Bath Full of Ecstasy (Domino) was like a hovercraft balancing atop the concept of green. And finally, Metronomy's catchy Metronomy Forever (Because Music) was like a metronome catching the metro with a, er, gnome, um, er, jeez, this is worse than the fruit puns. *destroys computer with chainsaw*

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: five

5 – Special Request - Vortex (Houndstooth)

In 2019, Special Request released a billion albums. He fired them at our faces like a tennis ball cannon. There were albums everywhere: on the floor, down our trousers, down the back of the sofa, down the plug hole. Someone get me a plunger: SR's fired out another one.

In October, he released the galactic r'n'b of Offworld, and a stonker it was too. In June, he gave us the brilliant Bedroom Tapes, taken from old cassettes he found in a house move. But since I'm only allowing him one album, it's May's storming Vortex that makes the list.

Vortex is a speed-fuelled hymn to BPM: the breakbeats trip over each other to see who can get to the finish line fastest. You think things are hectic, but then tracks like Fett and (deep breath) A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through The Stratosphere join the speedway and kick everything else to the hard shoulder.

There's a line to be drawn from peak smash 'n' grab 1990s Prodigy to Special Request's wonderfully futuristic visions. Vortex will leave you gasping — but don't gasp too much or he'll fire another album at your gob.

(While this blog post was hovering in my drafts, Special Request dropped the fourth of his promised 2019 albums. Too late for consideration here, but click here to have a listen: the title perfectly summarises his balls-out attitude to music production this year.)

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: six

6 – Nathan Macay – Blue Spring (LuckyMe)

In this Picky B*stards piece, I refer to Nathan Micay as a "weightlifting producer who chugs protein shakes during DJ sets." I joined a gym for a year once. The place was sweaty and full of posers and I never want to go there again.

However, if Nath had a gym, I'd definitely go. He's already won the gold-plated accolade of album of the year on this very website under his Bwana alias. Can you imagine how many treadmill miles you'd clock up with his quality beats pouring from the speakers?

Blue Spring threw me at first. It's no Bwana mark two, despite him still being in thrall to the amazing manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo. There's only one full-on house track here (The Party We Could Have): everything else is dialled back to feel introspective and cautious.

What elevates this many levels above being nice-enough rainforest electro is simply how darn good the ideas are: the swagger of Moon Scepter Elimination, the wide-eyed voices of He Has The Key, the synthy drama of Blue Spring. You'll go back to it again and again. Most unlike a sweaty gym.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: seven

7 – Octo Octa – Resonant Body (T4t Luv Nrg)

Resonant Body takes us on a trans journey, which is a bit like a bus journey only there are loads of Twitter warriors running alongside trying to cancel out your existence. It's tough enough coming out as trans, even tougher to produce an album this good.

Here we have a party album bursting with breakbeats, acidic lines, sloshy snares, buoyant bass and choppy synths. It has depth too, such as in the plunging junglism of Ecstatic Beat and the misty ambient ripples of My Body Is Powerful.

There's even a bit that reminded me of Orbital. I can't remember which bit. That's good, isn't it. Quality music journalism. I've basically just told you there's a bit that sounds like something somewhere on the album. Nice and specific.

The climax of 'Body (as it's known to its friends) is almost bizarre as the final track is overtaken by an awkward crowd chant, but it feels deserved: Octo Octa's brilliant album isn't just a celebration of the body, but of a community. An unqualified joy: probably the most celebratory thing in this top 20.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: eight

8 – Janus Rasmussen ‎– Vín (Ki Records)

It's him. Y'know. That bloke. The guy from Kiasmos, the band that had the best album of the decade. No, you're confusing him with the drummer from Genesis. No, that's Frank the window cleaner from number 42. Oh never mind.

Janus 'Kiasmos' Rasmussen's first solo album Vín is incredibly pretty. It's as pretty as a nice vase that has a really pretty design on it. I'm not good at describing vases. The melodies are simply layered, the beats driving: it's an attractive journey from A to B.

What lifts it is the IDM warmth to the drums and the dual sensibility of classical and club that made Kiasmos so compelling. Here, the energy is almost euro-beat; sequences in primary colours that feel made for a truly international audience. And it's delicately dynamic: listen to the way the summery eight-bar melodic loop of Lilla splits into layers as the track progresses.

A fine-sounding work. Unlike Frank the window cleaner who looks the offspring of a bin lorry that's mated with the scraggy dog that hangs outside the launderette. At least trim your forehead hair, Frank.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: mine's a 99! Mooo!

As my top ten favourite 2109 electronic music albums thunder across the internet like a pack of cows chasing an ice cream van, let's take a look at some ambient, classical-ish and pastoral albums that didn't quite make my final list.

Leading this longlist is A Winged Victory for the Sullen: the elegiac ambience of The Undivided Five (Ninja Tune) constantly reached for a perfect fifth chord: extra points for a track-title dig at Jacob Rees-Mogg. I liked what previous Fat Roland champion Clark was doing on his television theme album Kiri Variations (Throttle Records) – all a bit fancy. This year saw the joyous return of Telefon Tel Aviv with Dreams Are Not Enough (Ghostly International). Its track titles were to be read as a poem, but the true meaning came from the ever-expansive production design.

Also in my best-of-the-rest is Nils Frahm's All Melody (Erased Tapes), whose seventh studio album was classic Frahm with added trumpet. Parp! Tim Hecker gave us the rather coy Anoyo (Kranky), a brief ambient sojourn in which he was inspired, not for the first time, by Japanese gagaku music. And Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Allesandro Cortini picked up a guitar for the first time in his solo career and drowned it with spine-tingling analogue fuzziness on Volume Massimo (Mute).

The ever-reliable Bibio went back to bucolic on Ribbons (Warp), with strings so lovely I'd wear them as a vest. The fact that Panda Bear guests on Teebs' lush Anicca (Brainfeeder) tells you exactly what that album sounds like: dreamy and exquisite. And the delicate glitches of Leif's Loom Dream (Whities) made me feel like I was getting razzed on fazoomy on a glacier's edge. Whatever the heck that means.

Best electronic albums of 2019: nine

9 – Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)

Aargh. Aaaargh. Yaaaaargh. This is the sound of my brain being melted by the gamma rays created by the extraordinary mathematical synthesis from the latest album by former classical guitar student Caterina Barbieri. Aaaargh, Yikes. Oof!

I normally like my music with a big fat beat, in the same way I can't eat lasagne without a load of Maltesers being thrown in. But like fellow Italian Lorenzo Senni, Barbieri has chucked the beats in the bin, and it's up to the restricted palette of synthesisers to do the work.

Don't get me wrong. Ecstatic Computation is no meandering slouch or Steve Reich tribute. On Fantas, the synths spit and quiver. Closest Approach To Your Orbit is a whirlwind of spiralling melody. The portentous Pinnacles Of You sounds like every cathedral in Italy singing on the breeze. It's as dynamic as heck.

I'd like to make something clear. That bit about the gamma rays? My brain is fine. I'm perfectly restaurant compos mentis. There is nothing wrong supermarket with my cognitive abilities trouser. Waffle spaniel historian clumps. Bibble.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: ten

10 – 808 State – Transmission Suite (808 State)

Joy Division. The Beatles. 808 State. Three bands that made their television debut at Granada Studios. And which of those three would you like to see again on television? What? No, the answer's 808 State, you toss-brain.

The Balearic boys are back, and everything sounds like they're in a decaying television production room, with crackly monitors, computers fizzing in the dust, endless corridors of wires that may or may not lead somewhere. Transmission Suite is, above all, a mood piece.

There's a cold war level of paranoia too. Just who is that Japanese radio voice addressing on Tokyo Tokyo? Why is the American guy so regretful on the the loping Cannonball Waltz? Are those congas closing in on us during Ujala? Yargles.

There's still time for the classic 808 State sound in the cheery lift music of Skylon and the careening rave chords of Trinity. But considering their 17-year hiatus, and a theme that harks back to the days of Tony Wilson on telly, Graham and Andy have produced a fantastically forward-thinking album.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Dec 30, 2019

Best electronic albums of 2019: eleven

11 – Response & Pliskin – We're All Disturbed (Western Lore)

I once found myself on a patch of shadowy wasteland in Manchester. A boy-racer car pulled up: its rear window rolled down. A drug-skinny tough lad called me over. I'm dead, I thought. Or they're going to use me as a cocaine mule and stick things up my bum.

"Here mate," he said. "You look like Johnny Vegas." And they drove off cheering. This, my dear readers, is urban Manchester, raw in tooth and claw. Track-suited lads making comedy comparisons to bewildered strangers. Brutal.

Alright, perhaps this debut long-player from Manchester brothers Response & Pliskin is the true sound of urban Manchester: tense jungle, nosebleed rave, bassbin-blasting hardcore with titles declaring unrest: Abandoned, Persecution, Resist.

Primarily consisting of epic rollers around – and beyond – the ten-minute mark, We're All Disturbed is one of the boldest albums I've heard in 2019, and if I hadn't discovered it so late in the year, it would no doubt be further up my list. And by the way, that lad totally looked like an emaciated Al Murray.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: twelve

12 – Pye Corner Audio – Hollow Earth (Ghost Box)

This bundle of vintage synth twiddling sounds like the soundtrack of a 1970s science fiction TV drama that's not yet been written. I'd star in it, of course. I'd be, er, Chief Roland Alien Policeman and I'd be in charge of policing aliens.

I'd get to wear a police hat, of course. Hollow Earth deserves its own police hat. There's something distinctively Tomorrow's World and Radiophonic Workshop in the wavering chords and pillow-soft production. Here, have a hat, you excellent album.

It's like a big hug. The way the analogue arpeggio meets a barely-present choir on title track Hollow Earth. The way the bass pulses in the tantalisingly dramatic Mindshaft. The way the album later breaks down into cotton wool ambience.

Yes, I'd totally be brilliant at acting in the science fiction television show that doesn't exist but probably should because Hollow Earth is a cracking listen from start to finish. Chief Roland Alien Policeman. CRAP for short.

No legit embeds available so here's something from YouTube:

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: dub be good to you

Stop right now, thank you very much, I need some longlisted albums with a slightly gloomy touch. Here are more best-of-the-rest albums that didn't make the top 20 best albums of 2019 — and this time, we're going underground: pounding techno and dubby grime.

Dolenz's brutal and brilliant Lingua Franca (Exit Records) conjured up an imaginary sci-fi movie soundtrack expressed through nasty beats and buzzing bass. East Man switched to his Basic Rhythm moniker with some grime-gloamed frowning rhythms (try saying that six times fast) with On The Threshold (Planet Mu). On Ossia's debut album Devil's Dance (Blackest Ever Black), the dubby ambience was as much about the bass as the space around the bass.

MC Yallah's all-dominating delivery was easily matched by the tough beats of Debmaster on Kubali (Hakuna Kulala). Meanwhile, DJ Nigga Fox got positively techno tribal on Cartas Na Manga (Príncipe) and Ilian Tape stalwart Stenny included some killer club cuts on Upsurge (Ilian Tape) – listen to this if you like Skee Mask.

Beats not pounding enough for you? There were some big stompers on Ellen Allien's no-nonsense Alientronic (BPitch Control), while Nkisi's 7 Directions (UIQ) was all about the percussive Detroitian techno, and I'm still wonderfully haunted by the detached robotic vocals on PTU's Am I Who I Am (Trip).

Finally for this little section, there's Blanck Mass's Animated Violence Mild (Sacred Bones Records), an artist who won my number one prize back in 2015. Although a bit more on-the-nose than previous iterations, this album was perfect for blowing some cobwebs from your brain. And from your chest. And from the inner regions of your spleen. Yeesh.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: thirteen

13 – Konx-om-Pax – Ways Of Seeing (Planet Mu)

Konx-om-Pax used to hang out with Hudson Mohawke on the tough streets of Glasgow. Recently he's been hanging out with Hudson Mohawke at HudMo's swanky LA residence. Somewhere inbetween comes this, his glorious third album.

The reviewers have waffled a lot about light when writing about Ways Of Seeing, and they're spot on. Its like Konx has opened all the windows and sun-bleached his murky sounds. The darkness is still there (the sudden declaration of "overdose!" on LA Melody), but these are shadows in daylight rather than shimmers in the night.

The album's also informed by Konx (his real name is Tom) moving to Berlin, and there's something notably European about the smooth flow of Nightwave collaboration I'm For Real. He also spent some time in Clark's studio, and I think some of the giddy looseness of the production could be testament to that.

This has proper cheered me up, sitting here in my Manchester living room with all this LA-inflected beatsmithery drumming into my ears. I'm off to put the big light on.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: fourteen

14 – Mikron – Severance (CPU) 

In my review for Electronic Sound, I said that Mikron "take us to a beautiful place out in the country" on their second album. The knowing nod to a certain 2000 Warp Records EP is quite deliberate: Severance is Boards of Canada on uppers.

The melodic leanings towards Drexciya, Detroit and the aforementioned Dayvan Cowboys seem simplistic on the first couple of listens, but this is an album I returned to again and again throughout 2019. It's addictive, like crack or caffeine or Windolene.

With those past references in mind, I was a bit worried about including this in my top 20 because there is so much 1990s nostalgia on this website. But then there's the bounciness of Ghost Node, the boldness of NynIV, the (literal) breathiness of Lyre. This is a fine-sounding piece of work.

I must apologise, by the way, for the constant comparisons to Boards Of Canada when covering this album. It's not fair. People often compare me to Johnny Vegas. You play the cards you're dealt, I guess. Monkey.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: fifteen

15 – Karenn – Grapefruit Regret (Voam)

There's a fruity feel to this debut album by Karenn, the techno pear – er, sorry, I mean pair comprising Pariah and Radiohead remixer Blawan. Track titles include Lemon Dribble, Strawbs and Kumquat: put this lot in a cake and you'll win Bake-Off for the next 52 years.

I'm not a big fruit person, myself. So will this man go (mango) for it? Will me long (melon) for it? Is it as good as Buri(Berry)al? Hey, stop judging me. I've got a lot to write for this top 20 and I really haven't got time to come up with fruit puns that work. Wind your neck in, ta (nectarine).

If Grapefruit Regret was indeed fruity, this would be the hard stone rather than soft flesh. It opens with metallic hydraulics leading into grubby speedway techno, all covered in industrial rust while the bass drum reigns supreme. No-nonsense pile-driving techno.

The highlight is the hyper-charged warehouse stomp of Crush The Mushrooms, but there is a lot to admire in all of these spiky bangers. No compromise: a couple of men daring (mandarin) to do their own thing kumquat (come what) may. I am so sorry.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: sixteen

16 – Floating Points – Crush (Ninja Tune)

Apparently this new album by Mr Points (as his friends like to call him) arose from his improvisational sessions on tour with The Xx, armed only with a Buchla synthesizer, a Korg drum machine and a potted plant called Kenneth. On second thoughts, I may have dreamt the potted plant thing.

Crush is a corking album packed with micro-shuffles and the kind of yearning synths you'd want at your bedside in the darkest moments of your life. Listen to the filtered electronic cries of Anasickmodular before the whole thing descends into fractured chaos. Lovely.

The track Environments is a great example of Floaty (as his friends like to call him) at his best. It sounds so dang scratchy, your ears are likely to come out in boils. But he somehow pulls things back and launches into the bizarrest mini-siren rave crescendo.

This is only his second album, and it's a tough call to follow-up such an acclaimed debut in the shape of 2015's Elaenia. But Flo-Pee (as his friends like to call him) has done good: a skitterish triumph. Look at little Kenneth's leaves shaking — he loves it too. Bless.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: attacking electronic equipment with stationery

My top 20 list of the best electronic music albums of 2019 is well underway. But let's have a quick fag break and consider some albums that didn't make the final cut: my continuing longlist of the best-of-the-rest.

The press blurb for Jodey Kendrick's EDM Vol.2 (Dub Recordings) suggests listening to this album is good for your brain development. All I know is I loved this squiggly Rephlexian IDM. Meanwhile, Antwood based the stonkingly spangly narrative album Delphi (Planet Mu) around a fictional lovelorn girl who comes complete with her own theme tune. And while we're on Planet Mu, Rian Treanor diced club music to pieces on the choppy ATAXIA (Planet Mu), and it sounded like someone attacking a computer with a hole-punch. In a good way.

Lisbon's Photonz added a queer Balearic flavour to house music in the strong debut album Nuit (Dark Entries). New York label owner Anthony Naples impressed with expensive house on Fog FM (ANS) while Bristol producer Shanti Celeste evoked the spirit of dub techno on Tangerine (Peach Discs): brisk house cuts meet blunted ambience.

Ooo, I must mention WH Lung whose wonderful and psychedelic Incidental Music (Melodic) evoked early Verve when Verve were just Verve without the "The". Aleksi Perala's Sunshine 3 (Dub Recordings) was so bright and cosmic, you could feel the stars twinkling in appreciation.

And two final mentions for this slightly genre-ambivalent section. The titanic techno twiddler Bogdan Raczynski returned to us with Rave 'Till You Cry (Disciples), which was as fun and as daft as I had hoped. And I hold a special place in my heart for the unique Lee "Scratch" Perry. Adrian Sherwood brought out the best in ole scratchy on Rainford (On-U Sound).

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: seventeen

17 – Barker – Utility (Ostgut Ton)

I once went to a Leisure System night at Glasgow's ill-fated Art School and a pilled-up Glaswegian shouted at me and my mate for what seemed like 92 minutes. We didn't catch a word amid the thick accent and pumping beats, bar the phrase "do you like heavy metal".

So Leisure System's great. Its co-founder Sam Barker held off releasing anything for ages, but finally he's plopped out an album. And not for the last time in this top 20 (expect this to become a theme), it's not the club stormer you'd expect.

On Utility, the drums are hardly noticeable, and instead it's down to Barker's exacting synthesis to prove the rhythms. This is a slow album. It's not so much music you dance to, rather it's the echo of the music still ringing in your ears as you leave the dancefloor to go for a widdle.

Stop a moment and let the descending shakes of Paradise Engineering cover you, or succumb to the growing Global Communication-esque fuzzy patches of Models Of Wellbeing. All in all, this is an enchanting work, and a bold step for someone who could have just laid out some fat drums and let his Leisure System reputation do the talking.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: eighteen

18 – J Majik – Full Circle (Infrared)

J Majik made his name with Metalheadz, which contrary to popular belief is not a Cyberman sex club but is instead one of the leading jungle music labels co-founded by everyone's favourite classical music conductor Goldie.

And that pretty much sums up what's on offer. Full Circle offers superbly retro drum ‘n’ bass noises: there are tingly bits which sound like heaven and busy drums that sound like hell and sassy vocals that sound like somewhere inbetween.

As with LTJ Bukem back in ye olden days, this has all the energy of those smoke-filled d'n'b clubs. The chords swell, the amen breaks spiral, the bass shudders, and the result is gorgeous. The beautiful break-down and beat drop in Red Circle is worth the price of the stream alone.

You might not be into drum 'n' bass. This is an excellent starting point because, to slightly misquote Tricky, it's brand new, it's retro. And yes, I am also wondering how Cybermen have sex. Must be something to do with pipes.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: nineteen

19 – Move D – Building Bridges (Aus Music)

You know when you bump into someone outside the post office and you can't immediately place the face because it's Geoff from skydiving club and you've never seen Geoff without his flying cap never mind with a first-class envelope in his hand?

I had a similar experience with Move D. Building Bridges, a nifty collection of light-touch house music, reminded me that perhaps I'd come across ole D before. And as it turns out, I had. Move D had a track on the seminal 1990s compilation series Trance Europe Express. Of course. I remember now.

This all makes sense, because this album, recorded in Heidelberg over the past 20 years, shows all the skills of a veteran producer. The machines don't just run, they dance: the patterns they create will slowly seep under your skin. It's house music for techno fans.

And despite the breezy pace on display, there's something melancholic left in the spaces. Just listen to those echoes on Dots. Or the pause for reflection on Transit. Check out the album's continuous mix if you can, because that's going to be some journey. All the way to the post office and beyond.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: twenty

20 – Cain – The Collection 2014-2019 (Highlife)

I've been anticipating Cain's debut album since this blog post in 2015. "More of this playfulness!" I demanded like a spoilt king firing chicken bones at a jester's feet. And finally, the former bagpipe playing highlander has dropped that much-anticipated debut.

Except it's not what I expected. The Collection, as its title suggests, is a collection of his pan-global dance music that's been piling up over the past few years. I'd rather be reviewing a proper studio album rather than a compilation, but I'll take what I've been given — because this is great.

The beats are metronomic, such as the 4/4 clonks on Eshu. This could be alienating, but a ghostly African chant or a shashaying sitar is never far away. It's a globe-hopping experience, and yet when a snaking acid line drops, such as on Gordito, it never seems out of place.

There's no-one else out there like Cain: it's so damn fun. The jester is dancing and I like it. Now can I get out of these king robes, please? There's some serious chafing going on here, and the crown doesn't match my eyes.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: experimental drop-outs

Before we start the top 20 proper, here are some best-of-the-rest works that didn't quite make my list of top electronic albums of 2019. All of the following longlisted albums can probably be filed under "experimental".

I loved the attention-deficit collage that was Madteo's Dropped Out Sunshine (DDS), which at points felt so tightly wound-up, I thought my ears were going to snap. Berlin artist Ziúr took a similar ear-bending route on ATØ (Planet Mu), an album that chewed up pop music and spat out a tasty techno fusion. This all sounds very Holly Herndon, which is good because she also had an album out this year. Proto (4AD) was superbly enchanting.

For Plastic Anniversary (Thrill Jockey), Matmos made a special edition that was "rendered virtually unplayable by the plastic floating within". The clicks and squeaks of the album itself were welcome, as was its green message. Meanwhile, Boreal Massif took on the theme of climate extinction with the trippy meditations and drony vibes of We All Have An Impact (Pessimist Productions).

Efdemin's New Atlantis (Ostgut Ton) gave us banging hippy techno leavened with dulcimers, hurdy-gurdy and a smidgeon of Francis Bacon. The multi-abstract ambience of Klein's Lifetime (ijn inc) included elements of light jazz, southern gospel and what sounded like a marching band being fed through a mincer.

33EMYBW called the electrotribal Arthropods (SVBKVLT) "limb dance” as she pushed the boundaries of the experimental Shanghai club scene. And finally for this section, I liked the playful beats of Violet's Bed of Roses (Dark Entries) — and yes, it's named after a Bon Jovi song.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: special mentions

Soon, we'll get our teeth into the top 20 best electronic music albums of 2019, like a narwhal savaging an unsuspecting squid. But first let's get some special mentions out of the way.

When I compile my list, I have a set of fuzzy rules in my head. To be included, an album must be in the vein of modern, post-Aphex electronic music, but that leaves things pretty wide open. Nothing too poppy, although the list has pop elements. Don't genre-jump into hip hop, although the list will certainly have elements of this too.

I also try not to include compilations, although watch me break this rule almost immediately with the album I've placed at number 20. This does mean there's no space for Burial's Tunes 2011 to 2019 (Hyperdub) nor for Autechre's Warp Tapes 89-93.

I've also been strict about the definition of an album, so I'm sadly not including the return of Andy Stott on the EP It Should Be Us (Modern Love) nor, controversially, am I including Underworld's spectacular and impressive Drift project because there's so much of it, it would have ground this process to a halt.

And finally, I have a new rule: if I don't like it, I won't mention it. In previous years, I thought it was important to be comprehensive and I included in my longlist albums that I wasn't interested in but were important enough to mention. As if I this site was some kind of electronic music almanac rather than just a daft writer in his underpants mashing a keyboard with his fists. Why recommend something I'm not bothered about?

So from now on, if I'm not keen on it, it doesn't get a mention. Sorry, Tycho. Sorry, DJ Shadow.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here (as and when it appears).

Best electronic albums of 2019: an introduction

Welcome to my annual list of the best electronic music albums of the year. Come in. Take a seat. Not that one, that's my seat. Take a stool. Sit in the corner. Face the wall. This is going to be fun!

Rating music seems to be going out of fashion, with Fact refusing to number their lists and Resident Advisor no longer numbering their reviews. However, I have never considered myself fashionable: I'm so out-of-date, I find Crocs sexy, and I mean the reptiles *and* the shoes.

I'm about to foist my top 20 favourite albums of 2019 on you. It will take the form of a series of blog posts throughout the mornings of December 30th and 31st. Numbers 20 to 11 today, then the top ten tomorrow. It will culminate in the reveal of the number one Best Electronic Music Album of 2019, which should be at 1.30pm tomorrow, new years eve.

That'll give you plenty of time before your evening celebrations to nip to Our Price or Woolworths and buy the best album on CD. People still do that, right?

A couple of things to remember:
Firstly, do not take this too seriously: ask me again in a week and I'll no doubt have a different list: top ten household whisks or something. Everyone just chill.
Secondly, it's is only my opinion, but my opinion is also fact, and facts are law, so to avoid jail you must take all of this very seriously indeed.
Throughout the top 20, I will intersperse bonus "best-of-the-rest" blog posts outlining literally billions of albums that didn't make my final list. Okay, maybe not billions. Slightly fewer than billions. Dozens, perhaps. You see, this is why Resident Advisor stopped doing numbers: there are too many of them. Stupid maths.

Are you ready? One blog post every half-hour until lunchtime, then we start again tomorrow with the top ten. Click here to follow the full list of Fat Roland's best electronic albums of 2019 as it builds up or follow my updates on Twitter.

Dec 27, 2019

You'll enjoy these endearing FruityLoops versions of banging electronic music tunes

There's a knob-twiddler on YouTube who's been posting FruityLoops version of New Order songs.

"Knob-twiddler" is not a technical term, but instead is a nickname for people who like to experiment making electronic music. "FruityLoops" is indeed a proper term, in fact it's music-making software that's enjoyed something of a renaissance thanks to its users including Avicii, Basshunter and Timmy Mallett.

I lied about Timmy Mallett.

The YouTube user is called Mkaymufc and they are a New Order nut. Because they are using presets and some pretty basic plug-ins, their instrumental YouTube covers of Bernard & chums are not as well produced as the originals. That's like comparing a crayon drawing of a warthog stuck to your bathroom cabinet to a real warthog furiously trying to mate with your bathroom sink's overflow pipehole. You'll never get it in, Porkles. YOU'LL NEVER GET IT IN.

However, what is delightful is what Mkaymufc does with their limitations: there are some pretty detailed covers here, full of heart. There's something so comforting about a Midi-quality bass drum in a era of over-production. And like a cat following a laser along a carpet, you can watch it play along from start to finish in FruityLoops (now called FL Studio).

Sometimes it doesn't work: Electronic's Soviet doesn't come across well. But I loved Some Distant Memory (that Oboe's so cute!). New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle is brilliant, as is their take on Orbital's Kein Trink Wasser. It was an Orbital tweet that brought these videos to my attention. Sometimes the drawing is as enchanting as the real thing.

Here's Bizarre Love Triangle. Enjoy.

Dec 24, 2019

Fat Roland's Christmas message: just like the Queen's but with more poopy baubles

Christmas is a lovely time of year when a reindeer does a plop on your baubles and Santa cheerily throws an elf onto an open fire.

I would like to wish all of my subjects a merry Christmas. And by "subjects", I mean you, my reader, because you subject yourself to all this grammatical hot guff every time you visit my website. Thank you for downloading my words into your brain.

This year has felt quite bumpy, according to the Queen. She should know because she has been feeling up the year when nobody's been looking. April felt squishy, and there was a distinct undulation to August. It's the kind of thing royals get up to. Disgusting, if you ask me.

I'm pretty immune to the annoyances of Christmas. I don't have parents, so there's no-one to argue with about Brexit while passively-aggressively chewing undercooked sprouts. And I don't have a television, so while you're bombarded with a gaudy torrent of Chrimbo ads, I'm just staring at the patch of carpet where my telly used to be. Bliss.

That said, it can be a lonesome time because everything's so family-oriented. Most Christmases, I delve into creative projects and spend as much time with friends as possible. January and February should have their own Christmases so we can continue to distract ourselves from the dank cold with booze and pals and shiny things.

The other day it occurred to me that "ho ho ho" is "oh oh oh" backwards, which is a lyric from Beyoncé's Single Ladies. I'm not quite sure what to do with this information, other than posit that Father Christmas is the opposite to Queen Beyoncé. The Anti-Bey, if you will. Next time you're sitting on a Santa's knee, ask him if he hates Beyoncé.

What's my advice for Christmas? Don't stand in your chimney place because if Santa comes down at the wrong angle, you're going to find yourself right up Father Christmas's butt. No-one wants to spend the festive season wedged up Santa Claus, no matter how Christmassy you're feeling. Not that anyone has chimneys anymore. Or butts. I blame Brexit Britain.

In summary, festive fiddlesticks to you and your loved ones. Maybe have a read of this 2006 Xmas Q&A in which I (a) still annoyingly call Christmas "chrimbo" and (b) seem to promise never to mention Christmas again. Oops.

Further Fats: Christmas chart battles and the chamber of echoes (2014)

Further Fats: Six drummers drumming (2014)

Dec 21, 2019

My 5 favourite films of 2019 (in alphabetical order)

Cinema trips are always difficult. I need space for my three buckets of popcorn and a mop for when I fill my supersize Pepsi with nachos. And there's never anywhere to put my portable foot spa.

Despite this, I did get to see some films this year. So here are five films, or "movies" if you are modern, that I especially enjoyed in 2019. Incidentally, the final film here was released in 2018 in the States, but 2019 here, so if you are American, please close your eyes when you get to that bit. Thanks.

Oh and this will annoy the purists. This is not a top five: I love them all equally. I wanted to rank them, but I chickened out. Does that upset you? What are you going to do about it? Report me to the list police? Huh? HUH?

So in alphabetical order...


This Olivia Wilde comedy indulged in some pretty basic high school jinks, hence comparisons to Superbad. But thanks to great leads and some heavily-laced strawberries, it felt truly original. The chemistry between Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever was sparkier than the band Sparks playing with sparklers: and indeed, the film was at its best when they were just being friends together.

I loved Billie Lourd's performance as Gigi, the drug-crazed non-friend who often went from nought to sixty in the blink of an eye. This goes for her script too, such as the line: "I lost my virginity in what I thought was a park but it turned out to be a graveyard, and now the ghost spirits live inside my eggs waiting to be reborn."

Knives Out

Everyone seems to think Rian Johnson is a poop-head (technical film term) for The Last Jedi. Blah blah Star Wars whatever. He knocked it out of the park with Knives Out, with Daniel Craig sounding like Foghorn Leghorn on mushrooms. An ensemble piece full of brilliant anti-chemistry, best summed up by the ice and fire interactions of Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette.

Like Booksmart, this took a familiar trope and did something new. Pure Miss Marple: murder, poison, knives, motive, means, opportunity. They even went with the final "nobody leave this room" detective explanation. A delight throughout led by the perfectly-cast vomiting nurse Ana de Armas, and with one of the funniest character introductions I've seen on film. *plays a single note on the piano*


I realise, by the way, I am saying nothing particular new and enlightening about any of these films. All of these opinions are available elsewhere on better-read websites. And so, yes, I'm going to refer to Ari Aster's Midsommar as a horror film that takes the usual (literal) darkness and fills it with blazing daylight, and is no less horrific for it.

We're in obvious Wicker Man territory here, with its Scandi wonkiness providing a beautifully twisted core. And oh boy, it's nasty. At its heart though is a relationship statement grounded in the brilliantly human Florence Pugh (pictured, top), and a narrative arc as satisfying as the best short story. I don't know about you, but it proper put me off joining a cult.

Pain & Glory

Critics love films about people making films, but while the surname of Cinema Paradiso's protagonist Salvatore Di Vita suggests life, the name of Pain & Glory's fictional filmmaker Salvador Mallo suggests something more negative. The physicality in Antonio Banderas's performance is key, with his only true freedom from pain coming from swimming or, well, that would be a spoiler.

The film plays with time to such an extent, you begin to question what's real. It looks incredible, is carefully paced, but never loses a raised eyebrow: there's a wall-decoration moment in a waiting room which was as silly as anything in Airplane! Pure Pedro Almodóvar and then some.

The Favourite

I watched a period drama and loved it: this is a rare thing indeed. Below is a YouTube clip of the film's opening few minutes. Everything that's wonderful and strange about the film is here:

The luxurious sets masking the grubby reality of humanity. The isolation and longing, often separated by mere moments. The "macabre" rabbits representing so much about Queen Anne. The fish-eye camera angles distancing us from the drama. The awkward title cards doing much the same thing. The saturated light casting main characters into shadow and reminding us there's another world outside. The horrible, horrible men. Olivia Coleman. Olivia flipping Coleman.

The Favourite was constantly surprising and I want everything to look this odd from now on.

Dec 18, 2019

How do I compile my end-of-year list? Thanks for asking!

"Just how do you compile your annual Best Electronic Albums list?" people never ask me.

It sounds complicated, listening to a zillion albums and shuffling them into some sort of order. And certainly there's lots of admin and lots of writing to be done.

Actually, it's pretty easy if I follow some simple rules. Here's how I come up with my best-of-year list, posted on this blog at the end of every December.


Firstly, I have to ask myself: what is an album. What *is* an album? No, seriously, what is one? I know they tend to be round unless they're made of internet. Are they like a frisbee? Is albums made of frisbees? What is music? Why are album? Huh?


When starting my list, I scratch around the bins at the back of Fat Roland Towers. There's usually a rat chewing on a Robson & Jerome CD, which I usually take as a sign. If someone's scrawled KASABIAN 4EVA next to the bottle recycling, it's straight into my top ten.


There is a practical experiment for choosing what goes into an end-of-year list. It involves: a copy of the British Book of Hit Singles; a blindfold; a set of darts. And if the dart should choose, for example, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who haven't graced the album charts for 45 years, it's tough. The dart has spoken. They're in my list.


Twenty phone calls, tonnes of texts, sometimes scented letters. Roland Rat never answers, but one day he will give me a tip for my year-end list. In that furry brain of his, there is a bottomless well of music knowledge. For now, I just stroke his framed photo, and hope.


I listen to music. Simple, I just listen to music. Unfortunately this never works because I have replaced my ears with eggs, and eggs are notoriously bad as audio receptors. I once replaced my knees with a small mining village in the Balkans, but the neighbours complained due to the noise.


When writing your list, skip a number. No-one ever notices, and it's less work for you.


Chant this incantation: huthatha baloobie flam flam yaargle butt. Then whittle a candle into a stake and bury it in a south-westerly position. When the moon is full, run about with your clothes off. None of this helps the year-end list, but it sure does pass the time.


Go to the internet. Press control-A, or command-A if you're fancy. This will highlight the entire world wide web. Paste this into your list, making sure you choose "text only". Bang. A billion words. Somewhere in there will be the best albums of the year, a sonic record needle in a towering information haystack. You will experience a glowing satisfaction that you technically - TECHNICALLY - finished the job of end-of-year listing.


Don't bother. Wait until I write the Best Electronic Albums of 2019, due to hit this blog before the end of the year. I'm not sure of the date yet: it depends on how much chocolate I eat at Christmas and whether I get into a fight with a reindeer again.

Further Fats: All of the previous end-of-year lists (2009–2018)

Dec 15, 2019

General election 2019: all the bunnies are dead

It has been an unusual few days. A week ago, everything was green fields and frolicking bunnies. But on Thursday, the general public voted for a blue-tentacled behemoth of pain and destruction, and now all the bunnies are dead.

I am, of course, talking about the 2019 general election in which a floppy-haired buffoon got a billion people to vote for him. I'm not sure what happens next, but I think all the poor people get deported to Brussels while we spend £350 million turning hospitals into whiff-whaff clubs.

The election was a conversation which essentially went like this:
"How about this?" [holds up dead cat]
"This?" [holds up turd on a stick]
"What about this?" [holds up Daft Punk's Get Lucky]
"Come on now."
"All I've got left is this." [holds up actually racist Bullingdon thug]
"Mmmm, yes!" [rubs over body for next 5 years]
I started election day keyholding for a polling station in a safe Labour constituency, and ended the day in A&E with a sprained foot. I'd done my foot in a few days ago, as mentioned here. I'd stumbled on a broken sloping pavement covered in ice, unseen because of a broken street light – it was a live-action health and safety video demonstration. My foot probably flared up again on Thursday because it was a Corbynista nervous about the election result.

The emergency room was packed to the rafters, and someone in the queue ahead of me collapsed, I suspect at the cost of the wifi. The doctor showed me a fuzzy x-ray of my foot, which had as much clarity as a Lib Dem bar chart. He said my foot won't heal until we get Brexit done.

Thankfully, this is the season of Christmas ghosts, and I fully expect Greta Thunberg to descend on a heavenly cloud to cure my painful foot. She's good, isn't she. I found Thursday's election result hard to understand, but folks like Greta give me a huge amount of hope that one day the bunnies will frolic again.

We might as well fill 10 Downing Street with spiders for all the good this new government will do. But as we limp through the next five years – literally for some of us – there's an opportunity. Let's respond to the election result by being active, being practical, and being creative.

Make your new year resolutions now. Do something special. We're going to need it.