Electronic music took many forms this year, but none more popular than the washed out, chilled out sounds of chillwave. So what exactly is chillwave? A blog term? A label? An actual genre? Or an insult? It all depends on who you ask, but when I hear it, I know it. Bands (or more commonly one-man projects) like Washed Out, Toro Y Moi and Memory Tapes all have that sound. That 80’s nostalgia hidden behind a fuzzy electronic soundtrack. And as silly as it may seem to slap a label on every type of music that strays from the norm, it can’t be helped in this new world where anyone can pick up a laptop and become the next Internet sensation. The geeks really have taken over.
Putting labels aside, this past couple years have really sparked my interest in electronic music. Back in the day it seemed like you had the million-beats-per-minute dance music that was only fun if you were candy flipping or the droned out, ambient shit that was only good if you have swallowed a truckload of MDMA. But recently electronic music has found it’s balance with indie rock and produced some of my favorite bands. Bands like Sleigh Bells, Active Child, Neon Indian, Crystal Castles, etc. This is fun stuff, intelligent stuff…stuff you don’t have to be wacked out of your head to appreciate.
Now, I’m not saying there wasn’t intelligent electronic music before 2010 and I’m not saying some of the stuff I mentioned before didn’t have it’s place in the world, I’m just saying it wasn’t my thing and wasn’t as prevalent in my musical orbit. But now that it is, I am finding new stuff every week that is worth talking about. That is why I have decided to post a list of my favorite electronic albums here.
I realize Sleigh Bells, Active Child, Delorean, How To Dress Well and Zola Jesus already showed up on my Overachievers list, but I don’t consider those to be true electronic albums. Salem‘s King Night was the only true electronic album on that previous list and remains my #1 electronic release of the year, but here are 11 others if you are interested.
Balam Acab – See Birds EP
I don’t want to belittle this EP by calling it King Night‘s well-mannered little brother, because I think 19-year old, college student, Alec Koone has the potential to surpass Salem in terms of making quality electronic music. Salem are spearheading the witch house movement and arguably released the #1 electronic album of the year, but once we get past the shock value of the pure violent nature of their music, Balam Acab might just be the decorous artist we were waiting for.
Balam Acab – Big Boy
Baths – Cerulean
Baths is 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld. The term glo-fi is thrown around quite a bit when talking about Cerulean, whatever that means, but just think Washed Out with broken beats and a touch of Passion Pit without being irritating.
Baths – Animals
ceo – White Magic
Eric Berglund aka ceo was once one half of an electro pop duo from Sweden. They were called The Tough Alliance. I never much cared for them, but after listening to the artsy, synth pop on White Magic, I think I might need to revisit the now defunct group. This album is a little dramatic and over the top, but tracks like Illuminata, Come With Me and Oh God, Oh Dear made this EP one of my favorites this year.
ceo – Illuminata
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
You can say Ethan Kath and Alice Glass are lazy for naming their sophomore album the same name as their debut…Crystal Castles. I mean, how hard is it to come up with an album name? But the laziness stops there. While their first album was just a collection of singles that had previously been released and had no flow what-so-ever, the second Crystal Castles album feels like their first true album. I will be the first to admit that their are a few tracks that are almost unlistenable…the damn thing opens with the awful Fainting Spells and the first single, Doe Deer, isn’t much better. But the rest of the material more than makes up for the noise. If you have never seen this band live, you are missing out on one of the most intense 30-mins of your life.
Crystal Castles – Empathy
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Trying to review albums like this are what made me give up on reviewing albums at all. ‘Repetitive sounds that sound cool ‘ just doesn’t cut it when the others are describing it as ‘crystal-clean top-notch piece of kosmische shimmer spliced with post-rock whimsy’, ‘buries sequenced melody in a blazing comet’s tail of dust and noise’, and ‘compositional bravura and bubbling sequences in 8th, 12th, or 16th note formations that focus the music’s energy in a directed stream‘ Anyway, I didn’t major in Music or English, so I’m just going to stick with ‘it sounds cool‘ and let you experience it for yourself, but be warned, this is headphone or background music, do not use while operating heavy machinery.
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Girl Talk – All Day
Not exactly an electronic artist, Girl Talk qualifies for this list because his illegal art is produced by a Dell laptop.
On November 15th, Gregg Gillis dropped his 5th album of (don’t call ’em) mash-ups, All Day, and caused gridlock on the information superhighway. On first listen, I agreed with the critics who said this was his weakest effort yet. It felt like a rushed album, even though he claimed to have worked on it for over two years. But after digging a little deeper into the 350+ samples that make up this 71 min. mix, I have come around. While it still doesn’t have the shock factor of Night Ripper and I can’t relate to the sample choices like Feed The Animals, I still believe Girl Talk is the only artist out there that can continue to combine hip-hop, R&B, classic and indie rock into something that sounds brand new.
Girl Talk – Make Me Wanna
Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer
In a year in which Steven Ellison received the most attention for his Flying Lotus album, Cosmogramma, I have to give it to him for producing Gonjasufi’s debut album. I tried as hard as I could to get into Cosmogramma, but I just don’t get it. That being said, his work with Sumach Valentine is my ‘difficult‘ pick of the year. Part electronic, part left-field hip-hop, part cowboy acid trip and part spiritual journey, the musician/DJ/yoga instructor from San Diego who calls himself Gonjasufi put out one of the most interesting listens of the year.
Gonjasufi – Kowboyz&Indians
Grimes – Halfaxa
If Montreal‘s Claire Boucher can put out this album and admit that she has ‘no understanding of (musical) theory or notation’ then I can admit I like this album but have no way of actually reviewing it. I will just borrow from other reviews like she borrows from other artists. One said this album sounds like ‘Mariah Carey’s Glitter re-imagined as acid flashback’. I hate Mariah Carey with a passion, so I don’t know if that’s true, but I imagine it could be. Another explained it as ‘ethereal soundscapes and conventional pop melodies’. That pretty much nails it. Some say you can dance to this, but even it I did dance, I’m not sure that would be possible. This album is as sinister as it is soothing and sounds best on headphones with the lights off.
Grimes – Sagrad
LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
James Murphy is overrated. I’m sorry, but he is. Every LCD Soundsystem album has been good, but I just don’t think they live up to the hype. Every time he releases a new one, I listen and find myself wanting something more. I always feel like it could be incredible if it weren’t for that one missing piece. I just don’t know what that piece is. This Is Happening is no exception. Drunk Girls is one of my least favorite songs of the yer and Pow Pow drives me just a little nuts. But as the year went on and songs like Dance Yrself Clean, I Can Change and All I Want ingrained themselves in my head, I had to give in, just like all the times before, and admit I really like this album. Seeing these song performed live helped out a lot as well.
LCD Soundsystem – All I Want
Magnetic Man – Magnetic Man
My first exposure to dubstep was Burial‘s Untrue and at the time I thought I had finally found the electronic genre for me. It was atmospheric, it was dark and it was a little frightening; like the soundtrack to a nightmare where you’re in a graveyard and something is after you but you can’t get your legs to move fast enough. By far one of my favorite albums of 2007. But gradually I came to realize that not all dubstep had that ambient base, that dark-edge or the stretched vocals. A lot of dubstep is straight-up club music and the other percentage is just boring. Rusko, James Blake, Boxcutter…these artists just didn’t do it for me. So when I first started listening to Magnetic Man, a supergroup of sorts made up of British dubstep legends Benga, Skream and Artwork, I wrote it off as the club/dance stuff and moved on. But coming back, particularly for I Need Air, again and again, I realized this might be the one dance album I truly enjoy.
Magnetic Man – I Need Air
Toro Y Moi – Causers Of This
A pioneer in the chillwave format, Chazwick Bundick is still one of my favorites. Causers Of This has been on repeat since January and it sounds just as good in the midst of Winter as it did during the chillwave Summer. Toro Y Moi are also one of those rare electronic acts that actually put on an interesting live set.
Toro Y Moi – Blessa