Dec 31, 2021
Go on a herbal walk which, according to a TripAdvisor reviewer, "is not easy with flip-flops".Go to the Culver Hole cave which, according to a TripAdvisor reviewer, is "not too challenging with good footwear".Explore the Gower Peninsular which, according to a TripAdvisor reviewer, requires decent boots so as to "avoids cuts and misadventure on the slippery rocks".
Gasp at the sinister atmosphere of the drum-rolling and ominous Blakers Loop.Delight at the ping-pong percussion in the AFXian Preston Melodics.Boogie on down to the insistent melody in the basement disco track Slade Treacher.Mime playing a video game to the fun micro-techno of Oxwich & Penrice.Get stupidly high to the credit-roll resolution of the sparking Blauwasser.Lie gasping and spent as the murky Strawberry Aero closes out proceedings.
Always holiday in Wales because you might end up producing an album.Be careful of where you throw stones because they can suddenly become massive.Wear sensible shoes. Always wear sensible shows.
"A Martian space whale mounts the International Space Station.""A manatee from Jupiter swallows Elon Musk whole."
It's time for my top ten countdown of the bestest best electronic music albums of 2021. Apart from the number one album, the top ten will be in alphabetical order by artist. Let's start with B for Bicep.
Respected author of the uncanny Nicholas Royle has a problem with this Belfast DJing duo's name. Back in 2017, I posted a link to one of their videos, commenting "it'll cheer your weekend up good and proper". Royle, who writes and edits books so knows how to do words good, said he was uncheered by the fact the band should know the word is "biceps" not "bicep". You can't have one bicep.
What followed was a light-hearted exchange in which Bicep, the band, jokingly promised Royle that they would address their dictionary-unfriendly name in the liner notes of their second album. Extra points to the author for his "Good strong response, Bicep" quip. Biceps? Strong? Ah suit yerself.
Here we are in December 2021, and Bicep have released their second album Isles. What does it contain? Drizzles of melancholic electronica, punchy beats filed to within an inch of their life, ear-popping vocal samples, and a nostalgic trip through every sheeny techno beat that's ever been created. Its a Bonobo fixed up and looking even sharper. A tribute to the unity of club culture, full of portent and scrumptious chords.
What's noticeably absent is a written explanation to Mr Royle, in full legalese, about their improbable name. Perhaps we'll never know what a bicep is. I admit, this did all happen more than four years ago: I put it down to bad muscle memory.
30 best electronic music albums of 2021: Pye Corner Audio, Ruth Mascelli, Ryan James Ford & Skee Mask
Pye Corner Audio – Entangled Routes (Ghost Box)
Martin Jenkins, yes he sounds like a solicitor, completes his trilogy of albums. His last work Hollow Earth was one of my 2019 highlights, with me proclaiming that it deserved "its own police hat". I must have been drunk. This is dramatic analogue techno encased in marshmallows. Imagine a spaceship gliding through space, but it has no edges. It just seems to absorb everything that's around it. And this is the genius of Jenkins: he makes something ethereal and gossamer floaty sound so dang weighty. Please don't go back and read that old blog post: I bang on about arresting aliens or something. Honestly. As drunk as a pig in absinthe.
Ruth Mascelli – A Night At The Baths (Disciples)
Normally a synth wielder for New Orleans punkers Special Interest, Mascelli steps out into the hot night for an assortment of buzzing club techno custom made for that 4am pill-fuelled dance slog. Ruth says they got their inspiration from "bathhouses, dark rooms and gay clubs", and you can certainly feel the sweat pouring off the subterranean basslines and deep, deep drums. Ruth also talks about "cavernous sex clubs". Indeed, a Bandcamp reviewer writes "My bf has f*cked me to this album at least 5 times this weekend". Goodness me, you'll spill your Babycham, mate. Techno for punks. Sexy punks.
Ryan James Ford – Exshaw (DUB Recordings)
Ryan James's debut named after his Canadian childhood home, or more specifically the forests that surrounded his home. I don't know what you get in Canadian woodland. Badgers? Elk? Polar bears on scooters? Probably all three. He has a tasty way of juggling breakbeats against a background of gloriously pitched ambience: imagine Aphex Twin's On remixed for a rave, with added club thuddery that grows growlier and more dominant throughout the album. Very good indeed. I was right about the woodland animals, by the way. The ominous Avant Guaze has a sound akin to a polar bear trying to nuzzle into a backpacker's soup flask. You'll never get it home on that scooter, mate.
Skee Mask – Pool (Ilian Tape)
µ-Ziq and Mrs Jynx – Secret Garden (Planet Mu)
Melodic IDM of the highest order. Please insert a smiley face emoji here. Inspired by the death of their parents. Please replace the smiley face emoji with a sad cry emoji. Gorgeous bubbly acid, feather-light electronic rhythms, hammock-lazy melody lines, glistening synth perfection, AND tracks called The Ballad Of Darth Vader and Philip Steak. Please cross out all existing emojis, replacing them with a crazy eyed emoji listening really hard to tiny headphones. This collaboration between an IDM legend – head of the Planet Mu label, no less – and a fully respected Manchester music maker paid off in buckets. All the happy faces.
Posthuman – Requiem For A Rave (Balkan Vinyl)
I don't often quote PR blurbs, but get a load of this. "We’re of the generation that saw the Criminal Justice Bill force the raves from the fields into the clubs, we caught the tail end of the convoys soundtracked by cassette recordings of pirate radio stations from far-off London and beyond. Every week a new musical discovery, every mixtape a revelation." From the rude boy shoutouts, to the choppy synth lines, to the car-speaker busting bass, this glow-stick guzzling dancefloor workout does what it says on the tin. Throwback? No way. This is a fast-forward because the spirit of rave lives on hard with Requiem.
Proc Fiskal – Siren Spine Sysex (Hyperdub)
Apparently, Proc Fiskal's family was big in folk music. Not, like, giants. They didn't have to use massive guitars or anything. But, like, there's a real heritage there. It's an interesting historical note because of the use of vocal samples in this super-glazed second album of tingling and detailed electronica. It rather sounds like he's grabbed an acapella folk band and spiralised them all over his music. Or maybe just meat-minced a carolling choir. In a gorgeous way. "Like Elizabeth Fraser cut into a UK Garage lilt," says the blurb. The result is enchanting: never has Gaelic sounded so futuristic.
Proswell – People are Giving and Receiving Thanks at Incredible Speeds (Central Processing Unit)
A veteran Chicago producer and format experimentalist nails his first album for Sheffield's CPU Records. Am I going to cut and paste from one of my Electronic Sound reviews again? Of course I can. I'm writing everything at breakneck speed in an attempt to keep ahead of my blogging schedule. So... This album "throws us into an imaginary computer game where the pixels are broken and the only glow in the distance is a low-battery light." This is Rephlexian IDM on happy pills. And it must get a bonus point for one of the best album ack titles of the year. "Game over," I wrote. "Play again? Most definitely yes."
Jim Noir – Deep Blue View (Dook Recordings)
This was a massive surprise. Not in a horse's head in your shopping trolley kind of way. More like a unicorn in your wardrobe kind of way. Is that better? Not sure. Anyways, in Electronic Sound, I described Noir's ludicrously listenable music as "a full-on hug... a Jim Noir boudoir. Think Air covering the Beatles via John Barry." Honestly, this is possibly the most pleasant work on this best-of countdown. Ah, I've thought of a better simile. It's like ripping open your pillow then finding another pillow inside then ripping open that pillow and finding pillows carrying on until the end of the universe. Whilst sleeping with a unicorn. Delightful.
Joy Orbison – still slipping vol. 1 (XL Recordings)
You wait ages for a Joy Orbison debut album and suddenly one comes along at once. Look, it's not like you need to release an album to make a name for yourself. Orbison is electronic music royalty. However, it's astonishing to think that his game-changing debut track Hyph Mngo was released in the decade before last, and it's only now that he's chosen to pop out a long-player. It was a curiously low-key mix-tape-style debut, his floaty club cuts peppered with the voice of family members distanced from him during lockdown. Still, although there wasn't much to get your teeth into, it was extraordinarily listenable
LNS & DJ Sotofett – Sputters (Tresor Records)
What do you get if you cross a Canadian producer and a Norwegian DJ? Great big holes all over Australia! Wait. That's not right. This is the first time these collaborators have produced an album, and the fact it's on the hard-nosed Tresor Records gives a clue as to its content. Hammer-blow bass drums lead the energy, bringing with them twitchy 909 rhythms, abraded acid and lots of science fiction sounds. The best thing is the album's dubwise attitude, with the echo machine working overtime to plump the cold hardware with warm air. Dubby electro fun and no mistake.
Murcof – The Alias Sessions (The Leaf Label)
Another album that probably should have been in my top ten. This abstract minimalism was originally written for a dance performance, and sees Murcof reuniting with the legendary Leaf label for the first time in 13 years. "Murcof creates cataclysmic ripples from the smallest waveform, like a moth’s wingbeat causing Saturn to explode," I wrote in Electronic Sound before waffling about "gaseous glitches" and "transient arcs" and an "ominous gong, rusted piano over supercharged static". For an act so obtuse to mainstream ears, it's incredible how listenable this is. Arguably Murcof's best work for a long time.
Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux (Sacred Bones Records)
When the Guardian reviewed this, they called it "the very definition of niche". I think that's code for "we don't quite get it". This is certainly Benjamin John Power doing something different, as he swaps his flesh-wobbling red-LED maximalism for something more serene. In two long phases, he leads us through sparkling streams of polished pads, through tinkling found sounds, through droning funereal organs, Scanner-style vocal wires. There are relatively few moments – although they are still there – where it feels like he is battering mechanical moles into your brain. Sounds niche. And I approve.
Facta – Blush (Wisdom Teeth)
How did this drop out of my top ten? For flip's sake. Can someone get admin on the line? Here's a snippet from my review of this folky debut for Electronic Sound magazine. "Facta’s insanely good-natured debut is a woodland meander through placid pads and feet-tickling FM synths... On Deck’s cheery vibraphone recalls 808 State’s rosier moments, or last year’s triumphantly tropical Cape Cira from label partner K-Lone [see 2020's countdown]." Speaking of K-Lone, it does work as a sister album: this Balearic delight is another gleaming triumph for the Wisdom Teeth label. Well done, teeth fairies!
Hannah Peel – Fir Wave (My Own Pleasure)
Hannah Peel is well jammy. For this fourth album, she was given access to the Delia Derbyshire archives. She rebuilt that historic audio into a haunting Mercury Prize-shortlisted tribute to library music and nocturnal chill-out. Cycles of fuzzy synths pay homage to the likes of Global Communication, and the thrilling build on Ecovocative is pure Ulrich Schnauss. All the while, this is uniquely Peel, and you can easily draw a line of heritage to her ace spacy album Mary Casio. I presume she got permission for the Delia samples, and didn't break into the archive like the Pink Panther, the Oceans Eleven fellas or an especially naughty badger.
Herrmann Kristoffersen – Gone Gold (Bytes)
Over to my Electronic Sound writing again for this tribute to the classic Electronic Arts video game Need For Speed. (Yes, really. Apparently the Kristoffersen half of the partnership used to compose music for Nintendo.) "Unsurprisingly for something released on Bytes, named after the legendary Black Dog album, there’s more than a hint of Artificial Intelligence here. The nostalgia works: cue a montage of Playstations, Gameboys and blocky Designers Republic geometrics... There is widescreen emotion on Gone Gold, its wistful IDM washes as filmic as any modern cutscene." Vroom, vroom.
96 Back – 9696 Dream (Local Action)
Sheffield's Evan Majumdar-Swift has turned in a corker of a rave album, and there's barely a phat drop in sight. This is techno written in neon and hydrogen. Lines of melody have all the woozy weightlessness of waking from sleep, and even when it slaloms into a steady groove on, say, Freepass For Them, it still feels light on its feet. Incidentally, this was mastered by Warp Records founder Rob Gordon, so there's some serious heft behind the buoyancy. Hat doff to his other works this year, including the move into vocals on the compelling Love Letters, Nine Through Six.
Anz – All Hours (Ninja Tune)
Another EP has sneaked its way onto my list. Whaddaya gonna do? Report me to the list police? This unashamedly poppy collection of bass music feels like that moment in a movie when all is resolved and the protagonists just need to let their hair down. Stereo on, disco ball spinning, and let's not think too much about granny whose storyline was left unsolved. Did she escape the kidnappers? Who cares. Let's boogie to the glistening r&b, the funky electro jams, the gentle acid, the shuffling wub-wub techno. This is a Ninja Tune debut for this Manchester producer: the world is watching. Maybe granny was one of the bad guys. We'll find out in the sequel. Roll credits!
Basic Rhythm – Electronic Labyrinth (Planet Mu)
I've been watching East Man's output with interest, so it's pleasing to see Anthoney Hart's other alter-ego drop such a compelling album. As suggested by the East London landscape of the album cover, his second album under this name for Planet Mu, this is tower-block tough. Hunch-shouldered rhythms provide a base for a series of tributes to his pirate DJ days on Rude FM. Beats crumble, basslines bend, and euphoric rave lines are subsumed into the grittiness of it all. Hayward Road soars the highest, but its freewheeling arpeggio belies the fact that we barely leave the basement of modern UK bass music. Proper.
The Black Dog – Music For Photographers (Dust Science)
Dec 30, 2021
Hello, reader. We are halfway through my blogging marathon of my bestest toppest electronic music albums of 2021.
Of my original 90 albums on my list, 60 have come and gone. Jon Hopkins went off to live in a cave, Caro C got her rocks on, Ulrich Schnauss was a "neon pink hallucination" and Jana Rush inadvertently made me reveal something disturbing about me and a science lab.
I expect you to have listened to all 60 of those albums by now. There will be a written exam on the way out.
What's next? I'll now get into the top 30 best electronic albums of 2021. As explained in my introductory blog post, albums will continue to be grouped together rather than have specific chart numbers assigned. I'll do a bunch of Top 30s, then a bunch of Top 10s - and then the all-important number one Best Electronic Album of 2021.
Can you cope with the pressure? Here, breathe into this paper bag. Here, have a good squeeze of this stress ball. Here, stroke this fluffy kitten. Here, put your finger into this tube marked 'Instant Shock Device 69.0'. Aaaaand relax.
More albums to come. I might do some more tonight, or I might wait until tomorrow. I dunno. I've been writing since 8am and I'm a bit tired. In any case, you can follow all of this on the 'best albums of 2021' label on this blog. Treat!
60 best electronic music albums of 2021: SectorSept, Steven Rutter, Stigma, Tristan Arp & Ulrich Schnauss
SectorSept – 954 (Gobstopper Records)
Pssst, mate. Don't tell anyone, but technically this is an EP. It shouldn't be on the list. If you tell anyone, I'll slice ya. Anyhoo, Mr. Mitch's Gobstopper label presents this delicious techno, er, album from this UK / Florida producer. The low-slung beats cast a line between UK bass music and smooth US electro, its low-res vocal samples only adding to the urban atmosphere. Not an artist I've encountered before, so I'll be watching keenly for future releases. A real head-nodder. Say nuthin', alright? Nudge nudge, wink wink, flap flap.
Steven Rutter – Riddle Me Sane (FireScope Records)
Steven who? This is the bloke from legendary Artificial Intelligence act B12. The best thing? He's pretty much doing his B12 thing. Which is all kinds of fantastic. Electronic bloops, skippy snares. dubby bass, gorgeous early Warp vibes. There's a bleepy bit towards the start of the album which I want to either woo into marriage or take on a horrendously dirty weekend away. A melodic treat where, in the vein of classic ambient dub of the Warp variety, the machines truly feel alive.
Stigma – Too Long (Pessimist Productions)
A marching band staggers around the corner. They pound their drums but they're smashed on illegal grog. They stagger into bins, trip over kerbs. The guy at the back, the one with the cymbals, has been mounted by a squid. Welcome to the world of Stigma, the new name for Kristian 'Pessimist' Jabs. Big fat trip hop beats crumble into a pool of post-Massive Attack misery while wiggly bits of electronica splash around at the edges. This damn funk is sliced through with the spirit of Bristol. What a triumph.
Tristan Arp – Sculpturegardening (Wisdom Teeth)
Arp, who counts Arca as a former classmate, created this lilting electronic album during lockdown in Mexico City, a time when many of us were solo-journeying into nature. Sculpturegardening was inspired by Alan Titchmarsh. Oh, hold on. Not Alan specifically. It was inspired by gardening generally, and has a natural, dappled feel thanks to its wavering harmonics and soft cello sounds. Considering the generative processes he used, the result is remarkably pretty. An album for stopping and smelling the Alans. Roses, I mean. Smelling the roses.
Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters – Destiny Waiving (Bureau B)
"I’ve never been massaged by puppies on a bed of candy floss," I wrote in Electronic Sound magazine, "but these serene sounds probably come close." I praised the album's "neon pink hallucination of bright open guitar chords and chains of blissful harmonics" before having second thoughts about my opening image. "Maybe not puppies. Kittens, perhaps. Really fluffy ones." Oh dear. Anyhow, this is all jolly and cheerful because it's Schnauss and you know what you're getting with Schnauss. "Possibly turtles?" I wrote. Blimey. Shut up, Fats.
60 best electronic music albums of 2021: Paraadiso, Pauline Anna Strom, Planetary Assault Systems, Richard Norris & Rival Consoles
Paraadiso – Unison (SVBKVLT)
Paraadiso is a project by Italian DJ TSVI and the audio-visual production Seven Orbits. So I assume there is a visual element to this, although I'm only reviewing the audio. The span of Unison is incredible, with, at varying points, nosebleed drum mayhem, transient choral voices, shattered fractals of tortured bass, and tidal washes of soothing melody. The choir bits are ace. The blurb compares it to FSOL's Lifeforms, and that's actually not a bad take.
Pauline Anna Strom – Angel Tears in Sunlight (RVNG Intl.)
This was meant to be Pauline Anna Strom's big comeback. This San Francisco composer had been dormant in the music industry for decades, instead committing her time to Reiki healing. Her unexpected death a year ago meant this became a posthumous album – and what a legacy. These shiny instrumentals feel like nature writ large, with chimes and glistening synths evoking long summer afternoons and placid shorelines. All with a process or library music feel. A truly beautiful work.
Planetary Assault Systems – Sky Scraping (Token)
The seventh album from Luke Slater’s hard-pumpin’ techno alias starts with an ace pun. The first track is called Labstract. Like abstract, but made in a lab. My scientist readers are going to love that. This is Slater in pure techno mode. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Rustle, squeak, squeak, thump, thump. Hiss, hiss, bang, bang. Thump, thump, rattatat, rattatat. It's pounding and hypnotic and sometimes I think it's a chem-mystery why all music isn't like this all of the time. Geddit? Chemistry. Chem-mystery. No? Oh for goodness sake.
Richard Norris – Hypnotic Response (Inner Mind)
"Set phazers to mesmerize" says the American blurb with its fancy letter Zs. Hypnotic response indeed. Looping analogue synths lock into simple arpeggios, all drizzled with a sepia library-music wash. The bold Arca builds over 11 giddy minutes, its fuzziness barely changing and yet holding us spellbound throughout. The missing link between the warmth of modern artists like Luke Abbott and, in once supercool chord change, 1980s theme tunes.
Rival Consoles – Overflow (Erased Tapes)
Over to my Electronic Sound review for this one, incidentally another album on this list written for a choreographic dance production. "There’s a halogen hum throughout, its metallic yaws and molten drum pads bleached with a scorched ambience... He shows a human yet hesitant side in scattered vocal radio transmissions or as voice-responsive algorithmic ambience... his trademark keyboard shimmer as on point as anything on his [previous] spine-tingling studio albums." So there you go. Another corker from RC.
60 best electronic music albums of 2021: Jon Hopkins, Kasper Marott, Leon Vynehall, Loscil & Maxwell Sterling
Jon Hopkins – Music For Psychedelic Therapy (Domino Recording Co)
Everyone’s favourite piano raver came up with this album of beatless meditation after spending time in an Ecuadorian cave. An Ecuadorian cave! Do you know the most interesting place I've been this past week? Sheffield. Who's the winner now, Jon Hopkins? This is all very nice and ambient and epic and perfectly suited to playing in big churches. An inbetween album for the electronic master. Lights down, sit back, take in all the beautiful Hopkins production. Full of caves, it is, Sheffield. Can't move for 'em.
Kasper Marott: Full Circle (Axces Recordings)
Marott is a Copenhagen techno producer whose first EP Keflavik, released a few years ago on Modeselektor's Seilscheibenpfeiler label, created a bit of a fuss. This debut album of euphoric club cuts takes us through breezy electronic jams, breakneck acid techno, cheerfully skippy breakbeats, urgent drum and bass and every other electronic music genre you could possibly pull out of a bag. I demand more fuss be made about Marott and his easily distracted but totally celebratory approach to dance music culture.
Leon Vynehall – Rare, Forever (Ninja Tune)
Pitchfork calls him a "master craftsman". Mixmag calls him "an artist of distinct talent". Ethel from number 32 calls him "who? Never heard of him. Are you going to return my circular saw or what?" Jeez, Ethel, that the last time I borrow power tools from you. Where was I? Oh yes. This second album of dynamic downtempo techno-noise is essential listening. Such a mix of influences, from rave to classical to techno to jazz. It's a heady mixture and may possibly make you woozy. In a good way, of course.
Loscil – Clara (Kranky)
It's funny what people get obsessed with. Loscil took a short recording of a Hungarian orchestra, lathe-cut it to 7-inch, then scratched the heck out of it. He then used that final messed-up recording as a sample-base for the whole of Clara. I've not been that occupied with one thing since I built a lifesize blue-tac sculpture of H from Steps. The orchestra is all but excised from this unhurried ambience, as vast swathes of widescreen chords hover in the air, their shadows strangely bright.
Maxwell Sterling – Turn of Phrase (AD 93)
I read somewhere that double bassist Sterling took inspiration for this album from Los Angeles, London and Morecambe. In only one of those places have I played crazy golf. What we have here is a sonic palate that ranges from glooming ambience to wonky half-rave. It's difficult to categorise: in turn it sounds like hippos with an arpeggiator, wasps on a playground swing, and a jazz band populated entirely by insects. It was Morecambe, by the way. It had a windmill and everything.
Foodman – Yasuragi Land (Hyperdub)
Takahide 'Foodman' Higuchi comes from Japan's footwork scene, so there are rhythmic trills peppered throughout this curious genre-bending album for London's Hyperdub label. The album is as abstract as heck, mixing Japanese environmental music with an improvisational multi-track set-up. The tracks feel episodic. There's no bass. The loops come laden with memorable hooks, but they're bitten through with hesitations and land as lightly as a feather. You'll not hear anything else like this. Extraordinary.
F.S. Blumm & Nils Frahm – 2X1 = 4 (LEITER)
An underground German producer teams up with a classical maestro for an experiment in dub? Yes please. Over to my review of this album for Electronic Sound: "We’re talking bull-by-the-horns electronic dub. Blumm brings his experience from his duo Quasi Dub Development, where a tuba did the bass work... All along, Frahm’s melodies ooze with sadness. Like the confused maths of its title, it shouldn’t work but it does." The dub bits really, really work. With echo and everything.
Howie Lee – Birdy Island (Mais Um Discos)
Beijing-based visual artist Howie Lee based the concept of this album around an imaginary floating theme park in which birds and ghostly spirits (I presume) go on the log flume together. It's suitably mystical and magical, with lilting accordions and jazzy drums lazily seeing the afternoon through. Imagine sparrows running a candy floss stall, or blue tits operating a Wurlitzer. Apparently, he's usually clubbier than this: we're certainly in pastoral territory. Not a rollercoaster in sight.
Illuvia – Iridescence Of Clouds (A Strangely Isolated Place)
Having written music journalism as long as I have, I'm pretty sure I've heard everything. And then someone like Ludvig 'Illuvia' Cimbrelius comes along. On the face of it, this is a sweeping ambient album typical of the excellent fayre produced by the A Strangely Isolated Place label (check their 9128 streams). But then... the drum and bass. The distant drum and bass, as if farted out by passing angels. An extraordinary sonic technique that already has me regretting not placing this further up my list.
Jacques Greene – ANTH01 (LuckyMe)
I had to break my rule about not including reissues in my best-of list because, oh my giddy trousers, this is so damn good. This is a collection of out-of-print records from earlier in Greene's career. The sparky house of Faded and the Brandy-sampling garage of The Look sound so in tune with recent dance trends, this might as well be brand new material. As jolly Jacques puts it himself, "time became quite slippery in the past year and a half." Too right.
60 best electronic music albums of 2021: Daniel Avery, Danny L Harle, DJ Seinfeld, Don Zilla & Eli Keszler
Daniel Avery – Together In Static (Phantasy Sound)
This album accompanied an especially written socially-distanced performance at Hackney Church in late May 2021. The last time I went to Hackney, I stayed in a miniature pod with black walls, and I've still not recovered. Nothing claustrophobic about this album though, despite Avery's knack for hot buzzy techno. Shaking techno rhythms lead to wandering analogue meanderings lead to, as the album progresses, genuinely optimistic IDM instrumentals. It's like a flower gradually opening: the release is glorious.
Danny L Harle – Harlecore (Mad Decent)
This album sees London producer Harle take on the personas of four people: DJ Danny, MC Boing, DJ Mayhem and DJ Ocean. Boing is the hyper one, Ocean is the chilled one... look, I haven't got time to introduce them all now. Just grab a Carling from the fridge and mingle with them in your own time. Harlecore is massive fun. There's banging euphoric rave, Scooter-style stadium crowd-pleasers, breezy 1990s drum and bass, hyper Italo piano house, and even a happy hardcore Golden Brown. Super daft.
DJ Seinfeld – Mirrors (Ninja Tune)
This is a second album of Barcelona-sun drenched vintage house from a Swedish producer previously best known for his "lo-fi" vibes. Recorded in Berlin and Malmo, this feels like a much more polished Seinfeld, all very sharp and snappy and Bicep-y. He filters UK garage into something much more sultry, and ain't afraid of a big fat French disco slam-down. One of those albums which is bound to be on lots of end-of-year lists. And yes, he named himself after the US sitcom. Better than DJ Everybody Loves Raymond, I suppose.
Don Zilla – Ekizikiza Mubwengula (Hakuna Kulala)
This is the debut solo album from Don Zilla, from Uganda's Nyege Nyege collective. The collective's name refers to the urge to dance. However, those expecting a party feeling will only be partially sated. A party, yes, but soundtracked by pummelling thuds, growling mechanics and machinery assaults. At points it sounds like it's taking arms against its listener, but it also sounds every concrete basement club in every techno city. Uncompromising, and all the better for it. Take your coat off, this party's just getting started.
Eli Keszler – Icons (LuckyMe)
Alessandro Cortini – SCURO CHIARO (Mute)
The Nine Inch Nails keyboardist custom built his own synthesiser for this solo album. Quite frankly, that's just showing off. It's a droning, peaceful work in which synth lines follow simple paths before building into something more intense: the micro-rhythmic climax of Corri, the buzzing swarm of Sempre. A pleasing listen, and no doubt benefitting from his recent work with the analogue master Daniel Avery. Custom built? Pffrt. Couldn't just get a Casio from Argos like a normal person, could he?
Andy Stott – Never The Right Time (Modern Love)
Is Andy Stott is rhyming slang for (a) beats so hot, (b) techno hotshot, or (c) Westlife he's not. Answers on a postcard to the usual address. Always innovative, this Manchester-based producer strikes a perfect balance between the ethereal and the electronic. Cocteau Twins wooziness against metronomic percussion. Dusted Autechre-isms against heavenly chords. Ghostly vocals courtesy of Alison Skidmore. And every album cover in black and white to match the industrial brutalism of his music. I like this a lot.
Arca – KICK ii (XL Recordings)
Bjork’s favourite experimentalist released, like, a billion KICK albums at once. KICK i was last year's lockdown album. And now we have four more (slightly less than a billion, sorry). KICK ii does a kind of sun-bleached reggaeton. KICK iii is full of Spanish vibes. KICK iiii is all ghosts and witchcraft. And KICK iiiii does the hushed ASMR thing that sets my teeth on edge. I'm letting number ii get a place in my list because it's surprisingly accessible considering the contorted audio of her previous work. Also it's got a pretty impressive collaboration with Sia.
Caro C – Electric Mountain (self-released, I think)
Caro's fourth album was inspired by rock climbing – keen-eyed audience members will spot the use of a rock xylophone and carabinas in her live performances. In Electronic Sound, I called this a "cosmic space boogie", and it really is as uplifting as that sounds. "Motivational vocals add a maverick attitude, declaring 'we are magnificent!' and 'you are mighty like mountain'. This is no stock Insta-inspiration: Caro delivers the vocals like melted cheese over a toasted bed of ever-loosening percussion." Definitely worth a peak-- er, I mean, peek.
Cid Rim – Songs of Vienna (LuckyMe)
Ripatti – Fun Is Not A Straight Line (Planet Mu)
Vladislav Delay, real name Sasu Ripatti, joins Planet Mu for some fearsomely frantic footwork beats. "Ever shoved a rapper through a mincer?" said my review of the album in Electronic Sound back in the summer. "Vladislav Delay cleaves hip hop into stuttered vocal shards, pelting them with frenetic drums... rushes of glorious techno, underpinned by bass deep enough to blow your mincer’s electrics. Dissected dopeness of the highest order." Dizzying and fragmentary, yet it all makes sense.
RP Boo – Established! (Planet Mu)
Let's get one thing out of the way. Yes, that's a sample of Phil Collins' voice on All Over. You know what? It works. This is the only acceptable use of Phil Collins ever. maybe with the exception of Luke Vibert's I Can Phil It. The fourth solo Planet Mu album from this massively influential Chicago producer explores his early experiences with footwork and ghetto house. The result is an accessible collection of vocal slices, choppy rhythms and stuttering beats: a great primer on Boo even with the Collins.
Sarah Davachi – Antiphonals (Late Music)
I always thought a mellotron was something you could eat. Turns out its a mini-keyboard that operates with magnetic tape. The instrument was a key component in this latest work from Canada's favourite electroacoustic experimentalist. From horns to harpsichords, Davachi uses all the skills in her musical arsenal to come up with an ethereal collection of ambient meditations. It almost sounds like the echo of folklore past: stories of ancestors drifting on the wind. And it's definitely not edible, so don't chomp it.
Sedibus: The Heavens (Orbscure Recordings)
Alex Paterson teams up with his old Orb mate Andy ‘Ultraworld’ Falconer for a debut release on his new Orbscure label. "Welcome to a wonderful evocation of classic-era Orb," I said in Electronic Sound. "Over four sprawling tracks, liquid chords curl around portentous piano, then rise into post-club euphoria that would make Sabres of Paradise proud." It's dead Orb-y. No, really. Cut it in half, and you'll find ORB written down its middle. Enjoy this adventure right back into the ultraworld.