Published Dec 09, 2015Our Best of 2015 albums lists by genre continue today with our staff picks for the 10 best electronic albums this year.
Click next to read through the albums one by one, or use the list below to skip ahead to your favourites.
To see more of Exclaim!'s Best of 2015 lists, head here.
Top 10 Electronic Albums:
- 10. Rival Consoles - Howl
- 9. Future Brown - Future Brown
- 8. Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?
- 7. Levon Vincent - Levon Vincent
- 6. Hudson Mohawke - Lantern
- 5. Floating Points - Elaenia
- 4. Four Tet - Morning/Evening
- 3. Holly Herndon - Platform
- 2. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete
- 1. Jamie xx - In Colour
10. Rival Consoles
Like Jon Hopkins or Clark, Ryan Lee West (a.k.a. Rival Consoles) makes electronic music that is fundamentally human and almost painfully emotive. The simplistic dichotomy goes that there's "music for the body" or "music for the mind"; Rival Consoles' debut for Erased Tapes is music for when the two are expressed as one. Can you dance to express fear? Hopelessness? Gratitude? Confusion? Howl makes it all seem reasonable.
These are sounds from the mind, but of the body. The clacking percussion on album opener "Howl" feels more like the clacking of bones than the clank of machines; the percussion on "Ghosting" sounds like hands clapping, or feet stomping, even; and there's gentle, almost inaudible singing on "Walls." Howl mirrors life; it's chaotic, sure, but the moments of despair here — and there are many — are balanced by moments of respite from the violent din.
One can't know beauty without pain, and Rival Consoles delivers them both on this worldly, balanced debut.
9. Future Brown
An interesting enough production collective on paper — Fatima Al Qadiri, Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof of Nguzunguzu and Lit City Trax founder Jamie "J-Cush" Imanian-Friedman comprise the supergroup — Future Brown's self-titled debut record succeeded in catching the attention of many this year for its blend of North American hip-hop, grime and highbrow electronics. As one might have expected from such an all-star team, their collaboration made for an exciting foray onto a futuristic dance floor.
The record's strength lies in the wide variety of contributing vocalists combed from the underground. Sicko Mobb sound right at home alongside the bouncy steel drums of "Big Homie," while Riko Dan tears his way through the snappy grime beat of "Speng" at breakneck speed. Shining the brightest of all is Tink, whose name has only grown larger since the record's release. With a pair of feature spots that open and close the listen, she plays to moods both risqué and reveling with "Room 302" and "Wanna Party," respectively.
In its best moments, Future Brown demonstrates the powerful potential of collaboration, bringing the strengths of the many performers here to the forefront and clearing a path for more experimentation to come.
8. Hot Chip
Why Make Sense?
With a bulk of the songs written in under a week, Hot Chip's sixth album Why Make Sense? proves that pressure and brevity can be the soul of musical goodness. The album does what Hot Chip do best: Invite you in with emotion and wit, make you shake your ass, then leave you refreshed and inspired.
Wondrous, ebullient tracks like "Dark Night" and the title track "Why Make Sense?" anchor the album, reaching subtly skyward thanks to strings and thumping analog drums. Not a danceable club track by any means, "White Wine and Fried Chicken" sums up Hot Chip's longing, romantic aesthetic nonetheless; the lyrically irreverent ballad transcends dance music and demonstrates the levels of intimacy the band are capable of, as they speak to the heart, not just the body.
Why Make Sense? is a testament to simple, effective dance music's continued relevance, shaking things up both on and off the floor.
7. Levon Vincent
Of all the different things anticipated from Levon Vincent's full-length debut, easing off the gas would probably have been our last expectation. But Levon Vincent, his self-titled release, eschews a lot of the sultry and sweaty percussive elements that typify much of the producer's work. Instead, Levon offers an auspicious showcase of distilled techno that magnifies the textural nuances of his production.
Returning these songs to their essence defines the record, but the stylistic range he explores here is just as crucial. From spacey synth waves to the roaring tension of "Woman Is an Angel," there's enough diversity here to make one suspect there were other artists behind this record. The intricacies don't end there, though; "Small Whole-Numbered Ratio" provides a triumphant mood shift, while "Launch Ramp to the Sky" guides us through a pensive, forlorn tale. A brilliant stroke of subtlety, Levon Vincent brings a sparse but evocative angle to techno.
Pierre John Felcenloben
6. Hudson Mohawke
Hudson Mohawke had a solid career before the great trap boom, but his work with G.O.O.D. Music and as one half of TNGHT (alongside Montreal's Lunice) quickly made him synonymous with skittering hi-hats, booming bass and a very specific era of electronic music. Fortunately, on his sophomore solo album Lantern, Mohawke challenged both himself and his audience, pushing music forward in the process.
Instrumentals like "Lil Djembe" and "Portrait of Luci" are at once weird, progressive and club-ready; "System" resembles a Mohawke banger of yesteryear, but not without some Philip Glass arpeggios. Switching gears, "Indian Steps" is an electronic pop song just frail enough for Antony Hegarty to sound right at home, while Mohawke lays a perfect soulful backbone for one of Miguel's psychedelic dreams on "Deepspace." Joyous album closer "Brand New World" is a hopeful slapper with uplifting melodies and an edited '90s rock rhythm section.
The Glaswegian producer pieced together a veritable munchy box of sounds. Unlike his hometown's trashy late-night cuisine, however, the results are decadent, well designed and downright delicious.
5. Floating Points
Elaenia is a complex piece of work: it's electronic, it's jazz, it's sparse, it's dense, it's digestible, it's sprawling, it's analog, it's digital, it's modern, it's timeless. It's the work of a man with a PhD in neuroscience; it's the work of a lifer musician. But what makes Elaenia so compelling is just how uncomplicated, how direct and moving Floating Points makes the whole thing sound.
Over 43 stirring minutes of music, Floating Points builds an emotional, cohesive work in which each composition still has it's own discernible personality. He adds subtle analog piano and digital bleeps throughout that wash back and forth like the tide, never allowing a central theme to repeat itself. With a large swath of tools and ideas at his disposal, Floating Points focuses on the elements of Elaenia, rather than the whole organism and that's what makes the album so relatable, so alien, so warm, so distant, so…
4. Four Tet
Electronic music, and all of its ever-morphing subgenres, can become so consumed by crafting a rhythm that other considerations sometimes become secondary or incidental. That's never been the case with Four Tet's Kieran Hebden.
Morning/Evening is a noteworthy release, even within Hebden's eclectic catalogue, due to its influences and intention. Like Jon Hopkins, Hebden has drawn a great deal of musical influence from new age music, so while the resulting compositions here aren't likely to find their way onto dance floors, for that matter, it doesn't matter; Hebden's aiming for listeners' minds.
Mining the records his Indian grandmother left him, Hebden slowly builds a hypnotic groove here, allowing a melody to coalesce before slowly pulling it apart again, leaving mere traces of the original music, but all of the emotive qualities. This is Hebden at his most subdued, but the artistic investment here is palpable; Morning/ Evening deserves your attention if it has yet to capture it.
3. Holly Herndon
While 2015 has seen its share of genre-bending electronic albums, Holly Herndon managed to straddle a very tricky border indeed: the one between experimental and accessible. Platform is littered with coded messages, both literally and figuratively. Often, elements are taken as is from Internet pop-ups and relayed, straight-faced, back to the listener, as when Herndon drolly offers "Be the first of your friends to like Greek yoghurt this summer" on the superb "Locker Leak."
Platform is a deep look at our interactions with digital media, as she questions our seemingly real connections with unknown Internet users and the online versions of ourselves that we project, and which shape our real world behaviour. It all makes for a thought-provoking album.
Yet, despite the overall aim and the methods undertaken, Platform is still a thoroughly enjoyable listen. It's not the abstruse mammoth that one would expect. Instead, Herndon pulled off an album where the big ideas never overshadow the finely crafted sounds.
2. Oneohtrix Point Never
Garden of Delete
To say that Daniel Lopatin's sophomore Warp release was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Fans and critics alike were drooling for a follow-up to the massively acclaimed R Plus Seven, and were in turn treated to a months-long promotional campaign that featured a surreal, artist-crafted fictional universe complete with a teenaged alien music fan and the "hypergrunge" band Kaoss Edge.
When Garden of Delete finally revealed its tumultuous self to the world, it was clear that the music itself was the final layer to Lopatin's cleverly curated, mind-boggling multimedia world. Traditional — and that in itself is a loaded word when describing Lopatin's music — Oneohtrix Point Never sonic elements are bound tightly here with synthetic, Top 40-inspired vocals, passages of death metal and near-industrial blast beats, club-friendly EDM tropes, and gut-wrenching grunge guitar lines. It's both his most pop-centric and his most jarring release to date, an otherworldly trip that imagines what pop music from some far-flung, robotic sector of the universe might sound like, but weirder — and brilliant.
1. Jamie xx
As both its title and vibrant artwork imply, Jamie xx's In Colour is a record of many different shades, tones and moods. A properly executed pinnacle to his solo career thus far, the producer's debut is nothing short of a mesmerizing look at his glut of musical influences, designed less for the dance floor and more for the listener's heart and mind. All driven by the influence of UK bass music, the spacious "SeeSaw," the steel drums of "Obvs" and the cinematic, piano-dusted "The Rest Is Noise" are only a few of the moments capable of playing to emotional dualities: happy or sad, exuberant or introverted. Such nuance easily warrants multiple listens.
The shortlist of strong guest features includes xx bandmate Oliver Sim's soft vocals and lead guitar on "Stranger in a Room," while Young Thug and Popcaan succeed in making "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" one of the most joyous recordings of the year. It's "Loud Places," though, a dreamlike centrepiece highlighted by a striking vocal performance from Jamie's xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft and a seamless Idris Muhammad vocal sample hook, that best demonstrates Jamie's unique ability to evoke multiple emotions in one song — sometimes all at once.