The most compelling electronic music of 2014 could be found in thoughtful experimentation and dancefloor-ready fun. But the ones who led the way tended to be pioneers who made their reputations doing just that.
With its sampled hip-hop beats and fluttery polysynths, Reality Testing is the embodiment of accessible alternative electronic music. Each song takes dance music conventions and slightly twists them, from the stuttering samples on “Restless City” to the funky staccato groove of “Meeker Warm Energy” and the hiccupping house beat on “Begin to Begin”. The music never loses traction or goes too far off the rails, and Lone manages a perfect push-pull between his left-field restlessness and conventional song structures. The producer also employs an immaculate balance between chillout, instrumental hip-hop and house influences, a balance that turns Reality Testing into quintessential feel-good party music and one of the most satisfying, laid-back dance records of the year. Colin Fitzgerald
In the Wild
Last year’s Hardcourage showed Andrew Lustman at his most polished and streamlined, and was an easy sell as his masterwork; this year’s In the Wild shows him at his most decadent, but is every bit as essential. As FaltyDL, Lustman shares rank with a generation of producers who came of age in the post-genre haze of IDM: artists like Chris Clark, Benn Jordan, and Luke Vibert, whose affiliation with any one style of electronic music was always less important than carving a sui generis niche among several. Lustman is distinguished by his balance of inventiveness and charisma, so the fact that his deceptively scattershot safari through an overgrowth of minimal house, glitch, found sound, and hip-hop sustains its flow even during the most amelodic digressions Lustman has ever made, marks In the Wild as one of the more striking testaments to a single artist’s talents in 2014. Benjamin Aspray
E S T A R A
E S T A R A is a difficult album to immediately appreciate. Teebs channels lush grooves through the entire record, but the listener is forced to sift through layers of dense, heady sonics to get to them: sizzling, popping, ringing, scratching, and clicking. The producer obscures the melodies as much as possible under beds of impenetrable static, instead relying on subtle shifts in texture to bridge together song passages. “Holiday” is a highlight, with Australian producer Jonti providing ethereal vocals over the rich, swimming samples that bury the beat, while the hypnotic “Mondaze” gets mileage out of repetition and saturated vocal samples. The infectious rhythms usually find their way through the hyper-compressed chaos, but the biggest accomplishment of the record is making that kind of cacophony lyrical and elegant. E S T A R A is all about Teebs’ lovingly crafted soundscapes, at once wildly psychedelic and undeniably beautiful, made so evocative that, assuming you can cut through the noise, you could crawl inside and surround yourself with them. Colin Fitzgerald
It’s an overwhelming task to reduce the eponymous debut of Kiasmos to words. When you read them back to yourself, no combination seems to do it justice. The album was made by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and Faroe Islands producer Janus Rasmussen. Both artists were distinguished in their own rights, given Arnalds’ BAFTA win and Rasmussen’s work in Bloodgroup, but their collaboration on this project achieved something miraculous. In broad strokes, the pair come from disparate styles, Arnalds being known for acoustic-based piano experimentalism and Janus playing keys and singing in his synth-heavy electro-pop band. But after rubbing shoulders for years and bonding over their appreciation for minimal electronic music, they finally put some time aside at Arnalds’ studio in Reykjavík to explore the space between them. As the eight progressive tracks on their self-titled album showed, that space was ripe for development. The album delivered a steady onslaught of deep, immersive beats and sublime piano repetitions, held together by little details like the flicked lighter hi-hat on “Thrown” and the transition to record static between “Held” and “Looped” that cement a natural feel. It’s as much elating and invigorating as it is thoughtful and moving, a work of devastating beauty. Alan Ranta
Jimmy Tamborello’s latest record as Dntel, Human Voice, isn’t too far removed from his usual work, though with it he takes on an abstract concept surrounding the sound, texture, and timbre of the human voice, how it can be altered, and how it can be emulated through the use of electronics. It’s a theme that grounds Tamborello’s expansive, sprawling music to an extent, reeling in pristine electronic noises and plucky rhythms to a central point. On Human Voice, Tamborello uses his modern sound to tap into electronic history, embracing the linear rhythms of Kraftwerk on “Bike Path”, for instance, while also showing off a mastery of conventional song structure when he needs to, as on the gradually intensifying “Fringes of Focus (Instrumental)”. Few could argue against the idea that Jimmy Tamborello is an incredibly singular producer, and while Human Voice may not be the best example of his talent, it’s expressive and unique enough to warrant recognition. Colin Fitzgerald