Top 10 Electronic Albums of 2014

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Top 10 Electronic Albums of 2014

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice a vast difference between Treble’s state-of-electronica addresses for 2013 and 2014. When we surveyed last year’s best beats they included a clutch of sweeping digital successes, among them two fond farewells (Darkside and The Knife) and three releases that crashed sales charts and radio rotation hard: Daft Punk, Disclosure, and CHVRCHES. With one exception—the hotly-anticipated return of an IDM legend, a spot reserved in 2013 for Boards of Canada—there were no similarly landmark albums on this most recent release calendar. Indeed, Treble’s abacus suggests that the beat-focused writers who assembled this top 10 feel a little differently about the genre’s landscape than the staff as a whole. That being said, our list includes albums that are clearly grand statements on the part of the artists; in equal measure we recognize blistering debuts, huge artistic leaps forward, and not-so-subtle reminders of some producers’ residencies very, very far ahead of the curve. While the tyranny of the beat can’t help but be a little muted after an astounding 2013, the top 10 electronic albums of 2014 reminds us that nothing progresses like progress.

Com Truise Wave 1 top 10 electronic albums of 201410. Com TruiseWave 1 EP

Instrumental music can leave a lot to be desired by the brain in terms of subject matter. But if the music is busy enough and refreshing enough, then subject matter can be pulled out of the sounds if the mind thinks hard enough. This would be the case with Com Truise’s mid-fi synth-wave, slower-motion funk. Wave 1 is a wide-eyed journey through Seth Haley’s synth obsessed mind. The kick and snare of the drum machine pound out interesting rhythms as Haley’s restless handsadd numerous layers of blips and bleeps. Whether it’s a hi-hat sounding like a serrated Frisbee flying through the air (“Mind”), a song that could work as a flotation device (“Subsonic”), or the corkscrew bass kicks of “Valis Called (Control),” Com Truise puts a demented yet beautiful spin on familiar sounds. Delivered as a small package of 28 minutes and seven tracks, Haley stuffs a large amount of fun into this thing. – JJM

Flying Lotus You're Dead top 10 electronic albums of 20149. Flying LotusYou’re Dead!

It’s a bit funny that Flying Lotus titled his new album You’re Dead! Not just because Steven Ellison has a wide, infectious smile, but because his latest spanning release ends with the chorus of, “We will live on forever and ever.” There was some debate up front about whether to include You’re Dead! in this roundup of electronic music. With 30 additional personnel — among them Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Rich Costey, Snoop Dogg, and Deantoni Parks — there’s enough live skittering drums, jazz-fusion guitar, and clarinet blowing to account for an experimental jazz ensemble. But FlyLo sequences the album like a DJ lounging at the club, calling up friend after friend to the box for a session. The 19 tracks average out at about two minutes apiece, and the moods go from spastic to meditative. When Ellison first emerged onto the electronic scene, he was known as Alice and John Coltrane’s aspiring nephew. Now, he’s developed his own name(s) — FlyLo, Captain Murphy, Juno Leed, and Lunchpail — and voice as one of the leading experimentalists of the genre. You’re Dead! is an eclectic fusion of electronic, jazz, and hip-hop, and it feels very much alive. – JJM

hundred waters top 10 electronic albums of 20148. Hundred WatersThe Moon Rang Like a Bell

If Flying Lotus had ever attempted to produce female-fronted chillwave, it might sound like this Gainesville, Florida quartet and their sophomore album. Frontwoman Nicole Miglis and her intriguing backing players occupy some of the same space as The xx and School of Seven Bells, yet enter it from odd angles. You’ll hear subtle tempo changes and find the band’s at-ease musicianship obscured by synthesized haze, suggesting they and their studio hands are fans of Until the Quiet Comes et al. This small tweak of the ladytronica formula is an interesting one, as are the wailing pop of “Cavity” and cascading, midtempo house conceits in “[Animal]” and “Xtalk.” – AB

top 10 electronic albums of 2014 lee bannon7. Lee BannonAlternate/Endings
(Ninja Tune)

I suppose I can understand the effective disappearance of drum’n’bass from public consciousness, based as it was on such a limited BPM range and set of representative samples, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. I always enjoyed the relentless rollercoaster ride offered by the likes of Roni Size and Spring Heel Jack, and waaaayy back in January I got real close to reliving those days through the release of Lee Bannon’s first full-length. You know exactly what you’re getting from the opening RZA soundbites in “Resorectah” to the closing breakbeats of the title cut: high-speed and high-energy transformations of jazz and electronic drum patterns, a crisp form of EDM thankfully light on any headache-inducing bass-drop nonsense. – AB

Vessel Punish Honey6. VesselPunish, Honey
(Tri Angle)

Is it OK to consider 2014 a decent recovery year for industrial music? Death Grips and clipping. both made statements in industrial rap, Cocksure repped hard for the sonic heyday of Wax Trax! Records, and even deadmau5 channeled Nine Inch Nails on While (1<2). Yet that conversation really has to center on the tortured artistry of players like Pharmakon and especially Vessel, Sebastian Gainsborough’s stage name out of Bristol. His second album Punish, Honey does the Tri Angle label proud, conflating synthpop and goth and chillwave sometimes within the boundary of a single song (the suite-like “Anima“). “Drowned in Water and Light” pulls together Neubauten crunch and Laibach militarism; “Black Leaves and Broken Branches” and “Euoi” are full of Coil’s macabre squeaks. It’s the music of tuned percussion chorales and dying batteries. – AB

top electronic albums of 2014 how to dress well5. How To Dress Well“What Is This Heart?”
(Weird World)

Just like the trials and tribulations of love, How To Dress Well’s latest musical journey hits its highs, lows, and everything in between. Go ahead and disregard the cheap “PBR&B” genre label and try to respect Tom Krell for the amounts of his soul that he poured into “What Is This Heart?” Krell’s high register — think Justin Timberlake but more desperate — makes him sound like a very vulnerable man. But How To Dress Well makes powerful music. Small, quiet arrangements are built up to epic proportions, dropped into softer spaces, and then the volume and bass is cranked up; Krell has impressive volume control and effects usage. The subtle, barely moving parts of “What Is This Heart?” help the loud parts sound really loud. For example, there is nothing but Krell’s voice at the end of “What You Wanted,” and then he drops droning bass on “Face Again.” How To Dress Well goes from bedroom acoustic (“2 Years On”) to strident orchestra strings (“Pour Cyril”) to a trance rave-up (“Very Best Friend”) and saves the biggest bang for the finale. “I see a world full of so much poison,” Krell sings before contradicting himself with these final words: “this world is such a pretty, pretty thing.” Making an enjoyable album is one thing, but taking the listener on a rollercoaster through your emotions is something different. – JJM

Andy Stott Faith In Strangers4. Andy StottFaith in Strangers
(Modern Love)

Manchester producer Andy Stott is in the middle of a stretch of synthesized music that is relentlessly complex and cerebral. Possessing a simultaneously lighter and heavier touch than 2012’s Luxury Problems, Faith in Strangers includes malleable, almost grooving atmospherics (“On Oath,” “Science and Industry”), leftfield attempts at dancefloor BPM (“How it Was,” “Damage”), and techno-soul experiments that also dabble in Pixies-like shifts in mood and volume. Really, there’s no earthly reason for me to be humming the slurred, squealing hook of “Violence,” but there it is and there I go for weeks now. Between these two albums and his work with Miles Whittaker on Drop the Vowels, Stott currently stands alongside Tim Hecker at the top of the heap of electronica’s true savants. – AB

Caribou Our Love review3. CaribouOur Love
(Merge/City Slang)

Dan Snaith’s fourth album created under his best known nom de plume is a progression from the dense pop of his earlier Caribou work, and a fleshed-out reprise of the dance grooves he embraced as Daphni back in 2012. Our Love is unrepentantly positive and hopeful, Snaith’s muted lyrics teasing out tunes of love retained and regained. The programming is soulful from the jump (the sample-sung “Can’t Do Without You“) and conversational throughout (the title track, “Back Home”), giving new depth to indie R&B and refreshed momentum to chillwave. This helps the album breeze by in just 42 minutes, although it feels infinitely more substantial. Staccato yet spacious, Our Love echoes Four Tet’s masterwork There is Love in You in title, album art, and most importantly sound. – AB

Todd Terje It's Album Time2. Todd TerjeIt’s Album Time

Bendik Kaltenborn’s illustration of Todd Terje is spot on. The Norwegian DJ is slouched over his piano, contemplating which of the three cocktails he’d like to try first. With chin resting on hand, Terje’s face has a concerned look. Or maybe he’s exhausted from being a total boss of bossa nova. Just like how Disclosure wowed the electronic music world with its hour-long debut masterpiece last year, Terje stimulates the senses and makes bodies move with his own debut hour of ultraviolet laser lights. At least that’s what I imagine when It’s Album Time is blasting out of my speakers in all directions. Terje encapsulates the listener with an otherworldly intro and does not let up in any way thereafter. Picking a highlight is almost impossible; there’s so much space disco to love. Believe me, going into further detail about how an album sounds is part of my job, but It’s Album Time puts my head into the galaxies and leaves me at a loss for words. – JJM

Aphex Twin Syro1. Aphex TwinSyro

Does the hype surrounding Aphex Twin precede the actual music? Maybe. However, we can’t deny that Richard D. James is a fucking genius. He’s probably reached the point in his career where he could just piss all over an album and thousands of bass-thirsty fans would gobble it up; he’s just not going to settle for that sort of garbage. James is a perfectionist of his craft, even if some of his music occasionally sounds like a recycled version of someone making weird noises with their mouth. He’s also a tireless nerd who hoards a ridiculous amount of gear; 138 different pieces of equipment were used to make Syro. People start freaking out if their favorite artists wait five years to release their next album, but Aphex Twin fans waited 13 years without much complaining. This is partly due to James’ extensive, illustrious back catalog, and because fans knew that Syro would be well worth the wait. Syro may be Aphex’s most groovy and accessible record to date, which isn’t saying much in terms of pop culture; it’s still some of the weirdest electronic music on the market. James carved his own niche many years ago with oozing bass and choppy time signatures, which spawned a generation of followers. Syro keeps Aphex fresh because he refuses to stop adding elements and transitions. It’s that giddiness that sets him apart. – JJM

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