Finally after half a year of absence, I got round to compiling the best electronic music of 2013 in a three part feature. Today I present the first instalment in the series:
In this feature, we look at the honourable mentions in terms of full albums of 2013. All these are certainly worth checking out, though not all are complete and undivided successes. These albums showcase promise and tackle their own spectrum of the electronic music field.
Later in the week, we look at the 15 best albums of 2013 in a separate feature. In the final part which is looking like a weekend update, I’ll post some of my favourite tracks of the year taken from various singles, EP’s and free releases (basically all the stuff that couldn’t be found on any of the albums below).
Hope you enjoy the read and apologies for not providing any links, with youtube, mixcloud, soundcloud and many other sites available, listening to these albums shouldn’t be more than a few clicks away. As always I encourage everyone to buy what they like and support these artists. None of them are rich superstars, they are musicians doing what they like and making music for the underground.
I appreciate any feedback at all, other recommendations and links to stuff that I like but might have missed!
Honourable album mentions of 2013
Young Echo – Nexus
The highly anticipated debut album from the Bristol collective, arguably some of the most talented individuals in the UK, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me. Needlessly complex and too abstract I fear it is not the sum of its parts. It’s often too floaty and quirky and lacks a substantial side to it. It also lacks stand-out tracks for that matter. There are certainly hints of potential though. For now some of the members individual output over-classes this album though.
Swindle – Long live the Jazz
Good dubstep has again been few and far between this year. Perhaps this is positive as it shows the genre is slowly returning to its underground roots and the excess baggage is being dropped along the way. One constant will remain however: Deep Medi is still the place to be for the genre with a host new releases in 2013. Swindle’s jazzy approach is unique: the tracks feature a lot of horns (even a bass guitar) but the funky sounds are oddly contrasted with a lot of midrange material ( and sharp synths). If this was supposed to give the album a grime feel, it didn’t work that well. This album suffers from an identity crisis for me: it tries to get too dance floor oriented and loses itself a bit along the way.
The Field – Cupid’s Head
The new Field album simply doesn’t live up to its predecessor (Looping State of Mind – 2011). Cupid’s Head presents more glitchy and melodic drawn out techno pieces. It is pretty consistent and certainly warrants a listen but simply never quite reaches the highs that Looping State of Mind provided.
Ikonika – Aerotropolis
Off the back of an amazing Hyperdub EP in 2012, Ikonika’s new album Aerotropolis was another disappointment for me. Notwithstanding, it has its moments of grandeur: ‘Completion V3’ is one of the better tracks I’ve heard this year and ‘Manchego’ is sure to set some club floors on fire. But there’s simply too much material on here that I could frankly live without. As ever, Ikonika remains best on her short-players.
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Tim Hecker has not made a bland album yet. Virgins sees him increasing the discordance, noise and overall confusion but at the same time he introduces more instruments than ever before. The album swells and then deflates again with some beautiful scattered piano playing. There are noticeably more snares on this album than on his previous work too. Overall, I found Virgins to be too much of a mixed baggage and I still prefer the previous three albums over this one. Virgins best moments are when it is at its most quiet and timid.
Function – Incubation
For an all-round good album that displays a variety of different styles within the electronic sub genre that is techno, Incubation is a good starter. It has some acid influences, some soothing dubtechno and a few heavy rollers. The standard here is pretty high but Incubation just lacks those stand-out moments that lift an album from good to great. It’s fairly accessible and doesn’t venture too far off-world thus is ideal stuff for a night out dancing.
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
With winter approaching fast, I’m rediscovering this gem from early on in the year. This album truly is scary. I couldn’t leisurely put it on but in the correct (mind)setting, listening to this becomes an experience and that’s what music is all about. Furthermore, there really are some dense and interesting structures (‘Consumed’ or ‘Miste’ for example) that contrast with the quiet tenser moments very well. A talented artist without a shadow of a doubt.
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
I can’t say I approve of Mount Kimbie’s new live direction. They’ve become just another band really but it sounds like they haven’t decided whether the vocals should be the most prominent feature or not. They have crafted some marvellous instrumentals here. Unfortunately overly-complex compositions and the adding of needless vocal elements undo a lot of that hard work. It’s hard not to hear the potential of tracks like ‘Blood and Form’ or ‘Break Well’ but both lose their impact towards the end in clouds of confusion. Some interesting songs here but perhaps they should get back to the drawing board concerning the vocals.
Slava – Raw Solutions
I guarantee many will have overlooked this one. Slava isn’t the most advertised artist out there but he can make a tune. His take on footwork on Raw Solutions goes down especially well with me. He’s always had a knack for melodies and the up-tempo tracks complement this. No real stand-outs but overall energetic quality guaranteed.
Juicy Jay – Stay Trippy
Guilty pleasure number 1: Juicy Jay’s Stay Trippy! This is Atlanta hiphop/trap but with a large enough wink to itself and the genre that it stays fun and entertaining. Get some drank, get yourself some loud and have a few laughs to some big superficial bass beats.
Moderat – II
I think ‘Bad Kingdom’ is one of the best pure pop tracks I’ve heard all year. Yes this is a radio friendly album (and I’m frankly surprised that I haven’t heard any stuff off this album on Studio Brussels yet). . I’ll just call it what it is: nothing innovating or mind-blowing but a very solid electronic pop album that does what it intends to do (kinda like a good summer blockbuster: you won’t remember it in three years time but it was fun at the moment). My grief with the album comes when I compare it with the self-titled effort from a couple years ago, which in hindsight was a beast of an album.
Lustmord – The Word As Power
One of the more ethereal, almost esoteric ambient albums of the year. It focuses a lot on vocal sounds transformed into ambient pieces, with contributions from celebrated artists like Jarboe (Swans, Neurosis, J2…), Maynard James Keenan (Tool) and others. Its long drawn out pieces won’t be for everyone. If you’re looking to meditate though, put this on and drift to a different place.
Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
The problem with this new Oneohtrix album is the same as on the previous album: the tracks lack consistency. Heavenly melodic tracks are disintegrated by needless barrages of glitchy beats, chopped vocals and sometimes really childish synths. It is part of his style I suppose but that never worked for me. ‘Boring Angels’, ‘Americans’, ‘Inside World’…they all contain good passages but also useless bits that distract from the flow of the album. The most consistent track of this bunch has to be the moody and minimal ‘Cryo’. I think Oneohtrix is at his best when he practices restraint.
DJ Rashad – Double Cups
Rashad proves himself the king of footwork once again. After some mediocre EP’s for Hyperdub this year, Double Cups totally sees him redeeming himself with plenty of soulful and catchy Chicagoan vibes. Ghettotekz running it.
Mika Vainio – Kilo
Very aggressive and industrial beat-driven album by Vainio. It’s more electronic than a lot of his previous work taking in influences from industrial techno, dubstep, dub and power electronics. It’s rumbling and rattling sounds have a certain raw energy to them. It lacks any form of melodic outbursts but is just right for a darker mindset.
Logos – Cold Mission
Though very well received by most critics, I was quite disappointed with Logos’ debut album for the Keysound label (one of the last truly consistent UK bass music labels still standing from the golden dubstep era). It has some pretty cool ‘combinations’ on display: Eski/grime meets futuristic soundscapes meets that whole neon Night Slugs sound with a slab of minimalist jungle in between. Sometimes these contaminations work for me but more often they don’t. This one still needs some time to grow on me. In the meantime I’ll keep rinsing the collaborative EP with Mumdance which was an instant hit.
Darkstar – News From Nowhere
Darkstar are arguably top of the class when it comes to the former dubstep collectives turned pop bands. Their previous album North was a (highly successful) transitional album. With News From Nowhere, they’ve fully arrived in bitter sweet pop land. They are by far the best group vocal-wise. Some of the compositions are stunningly beautiful and the melancholy just oozes out of tracks like ‘You Don’t Need A Weatherman’ or ‘Amplified Ease’. It’s all a bit soft and sunny but there are moments of greatness. Also, live they bring their work a lot heavier, denser and more layered (like a pocket version of MBV) than on record. The remix EP’s of this album contain some stunning tracks as well (check out the Zomby remix!).
Recondite – Hinterland
Recondite churns out another couple of fine drifting and melodic acid tracks at a slowed down pace (almost dub techno). He mixes in some deep house elements in the percussion as well. It’s a fine and consistent album but contains very few surprises and could have done with more highlights such as ‘Leafs’. Fans won’t be disappointed but if you are expecting some pill munching acid, you’re looking in the wrong place. Stunning artwork as well by the way.
Still Corners – Strange Pleasures
I do enjoy my dose of gazey dream-pop. For fans of Beach House (or even Grimes) this is a must listen. It contains some beautiful tracks (‘Going Back to Strange’, ‘Berlin Lovers’) that remind you of innocent youth. Don’t expect any heavy beats or experimental sounds here though: it is simply pop done right.
Femme En Fourrure – 36-26-36
Great albeit slightly over-stylised house album. The entire thing is oozing with that comedown feeling. The R&B vocals work surprisingly well with the late night house steppers. A welcome introduction to this artist for me.
Machinedrum – Vapor City
Consistent and well balanced album by Machinedrum. Unfortunately it isn’t elevated to something more: it never impacted me the same way that Room(s) did when I first heard that one. The combo of footwork/jungle/electronica still works but what he has gained in ‘complexity’, he might have lost in impact. There’s still a plethora of quality on display: check out single ‘Eyesdontlie’ or ‘Rise N Fall’ for example with their lush R&B vocal snippets. And what about the Jungle/autonomic blasts of ‘Gunshotta’, catered perfectly to the dance floor masses. Other tracks I will however have forgotten completely come February 1st, 2014.
The Weeknd – Kiss Land
Slightly disappointing fourth album by this Canadian R&B meets bass sensation. The title track which was released as a single promised a lot of good stuff. Unfortunately ‘Kiss Land’ proved to be by far the best track on the album. Which isn’t to say there’s no quality on here: the tracks just lack consistency. The first half of the album interchanges genuinely good moments with bland or overlay dramatic moments. The latter half of the album loses focus. The single is a damn good piece of music though that elevates this one above mediocrity. Surprisingly the duet with Drake isn’t too bad either.
Snow Ghosts – A Small Murmuration
Snow Ghosts fill in the void left by Various Productions perfectly. It’s dramatic, cinematic, layered and dense music with great atypical deep female vocals. The music complements the singer very well and vice versa. Favourite track for me is the collab with Blue Daisy who put a great EP out this year as well. All-round quality on the forward thinking Houndstooth label.
Benjamin Damage – Heliosphere
Fifty Weapons have to be one of the better labels of these last couple of years and the new Benjamin Damage record is a great addition to their legacy. Incorporating loads of nineties influences (particularly melody wise), he continues to bring a unique and varied take on modern techno. “Laika” is one of the better tracks of the year, keeping the middle ground between Shed, Speedy J and Burial. “Delirium Tremens” is pure energy driven techno and what about the chilled out dubby “End Days” venturing into half-step territory. Did we mention this is a varied album?
Cosmin TRG – Gordian
More material from the above mentioned Fifty Weapons right here. Cosmin TRG further refines his brand of tech-house on his second full album. Though it is perhaps his most ‘minimal’-oriented output to date, the elements are perfectly balanced. Rhythmically speaking he never needed any lessons (see his great first couple of dubstep records) and he’s taken further steps forward in terms of hooks and melody. Time in Berlin has truly helped him define his own style of techno. Defeated Hearts Club’ is one of the gems of the year.
Senking – Capsize Recovery
Outstanding debut album from Senking who moves further away from the dubstep/breaks territory into the barren ruins of the post-techno sound. Droning bass, industrial effects, bare hints of melody: it ticks perhaps all the boxes of what was ‘good’ in 2013 but when it is done right, it doesn’t matter that it follows a sort of ‘successful’ trend. On this album he creates a paranoid, desolate landscape but there are still enough beats to call this a a varied and modern dance album.
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Immunity is a consistent and beautiful techno album that feels as though it has a true narrative to it, a rare feat in most albums these days. It interchanges energetic dance floor tracks (though a bit more light-hearted in style than most other techno albums found in this list) in the first half, with deeper retrospective moments in the latter half. I found most people slightly overhyping this one, but to claim it isn’t a damn good album is simply wrong.
Om Unit – Threads
Very colourful album that blends the verges between jungle, hip-hop, footwork, drum & bass and dubstep. A futuristic voyage that wanders into the high-end BPM spectrum but isn’t afraid to leave some occasional space between the beats. Melody-wise this man needs no lessons: at times they are exotic but oft also timid and introvert. I feel as though beat-wise he could have brought more cards to the table.
Laurel Halo – Chance of Rain
Laurel Halo has cut down on the weirdness and finally produced the substantial album she was always capable of making. Mixing psychedelic elements with meditative beats and hazy melodies, this feels as a complete work of art (with great artwork I might add). After a typical intro track, the beats take to the forefront on ‘Oneiroi’, a first positive that still might alienate a few listeners with its weird percussion. The knackered beat of ‘Serendip’ continues the upward trend on towards the highlight title track. ‘Melt’ throws another ambient curve ball, but the album quickly resumes its great form after. By far the best Halo work yet.
The Stranger – Watching Dead Empires in Decay
The Stranger is another pseudonym of electronic/ambient wizard James Leyland Kirby. He presents a brutal and nihilistic vision of a post-apocalyptic world, with loads of harsh hardware sounds, eerie sci-fi sound scapes and heaps of abrasive percussion. Elements of field recordings still meander through the album. This one is hard piece to digest: it’s heavy and dense and has only a few moments of melodic relief. For those into heavier electronic music, it comes highly recommended though.
Miles – Faint Hearted
Debut release for Miles Whitaker on the epic Modern Love label. All music here is constructed through analogue hardware and it shows as this is by far is heaviest and most abstract release to date. It’s still a brooding piece of intelligent techno though. He has clearly taken some influences on board from label mates Demdike Stare and Andy Stott, all for the better. There’s certainly more ‘noise’ here and the album has a clear dystopian feel to it. Another one for the fans of darker music.
oOoOO – Without Your Love
Another debut album in this list: after two good EP’s of gothic and glitchy house, oOoOO has made a more soothing and digestible album. There are a lot more vocal parts here, both male and female but both are heavily processed. The beats meander between hip-hop, dubstep, breaks and house, there’s a little something for everyone. I regret the fact that he has cut down on the layers a lot, but it does give the album a solemn and minimal feel. Some great melodies at work here.
Tune in for part II which will feature the top 15 albums of the year. A sneak peek perhaps (releases on legendary labels like Night Slugs, Houndstooth, Tri Angle, 4AD and Planet Mu are still to come)