Best 10 Electronic Albums of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

19 December 2005

The year's best electronic albums are so emotionally involved and organically expressive, it's easy to forget they were created with advanced technology.

Gang Gang Dance, God’s Money (The Social Registry)

Gang Gang Dance makes the type of music M.I.A. might have released if the boys of Animal Collective had gotten their hands on her before Diplo did. Listening to God’s Money is definitely not like listening to Arular; it’s more like listening to a stoned friend try to describe Arular. Instead of exhorting the crowd to wake up and get on the dance floor, God’s Money lulls them to sleep with druggy, foggy trance, like the soundtrack to Dorothy’s walk through the field of poppies. Songs such as “Glory in Itself/ Egyptian” and “Nomad for Love (Cannibal)” loosely combine Eastern scales, dance percussion, and ethereal diva vocal lines. The combination is so loose that it’s always on the verge of turning into an unhindered stream of noise — and when it finally does, the effect is glorious.
Peter Joseph Amazon iTunes

M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute)

Extending the ambitions of 2004’s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, French constructionist Anthony Gonzalez adds some levels to the hypothetical motion picture soundtrack. Considering the already congested template, it’s a wonder this album doesn’t suffer from its staggering opulence. Instead, the increased emphasis on emphasis actually allows M83 to be exactly what it wants to be — fucking massive. It’s stupid, romantic, and high-flying, like lovers riding giant doves through outer space. This time around the cast includes more organic instrumentation, more guitars, and more guitars still. And the guitaral direction actually shores up the dreamscape electronica. The Mogwai-cum-Air rock angle provides impressing dynamics and an invigorating counter point to the hazier numbers. It’s not all hush-hush for the apocalypse. The album includes quick and volatile songs along with a new focus on vocals. And despite an intolerable narrative tangent on “Car Chase Terror”, Before the Dawn Heals Us captures a seamless panorama of fire-raising atmospherics. For fans of: Gattaca; Ecstasy (MDMA and/or the feeling); Magic Eye ® poster art; Spiritualized.
Liam Colle PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Autechre, Untilted (Warp)

At this point, you’re either on the boat regarding Autechre or you’re not. The persistent quality of its releases would seem to imply that it has reached a plateau: Untilted is very much like Draft 7.30, the record that preceded it (albeit with a few varying motifs), and chances are good its next disc will be in the same vein as well. But this kind of dependability is hardly a bad thing considering that it’s arguably the preeminent IDM outfit currently extant. Untilted is another in a long line of indispensable statements from this exceedingly enigmatic duo. They’re good enough at what they do that it’s easy to imagine them being taken for granted on this basis alone; but anyone who dismisses them simply on account of the fact that they resist constant reinvention probably doesn’t understand the incredibly complexity of their status quo. To put it in terms of physical activity, if something like Ulrich Schnauss is the sonic equivalent of taking a relaxing bath at the end of a long day, then listening to Autechre is an Ironman decathlon. Thankfully, the energy expended in deciphering their abstruse formulations is directly proportional to the pleasure found in realizing the scope and breadth of their intricate and ominous designs.
Tim O’Neil PopMatters review Amazon

Four Tet, Everything Ecstatic (Domino)

It could be the beats. It could be the rhythms. The music is so damned infectious that the reason for the disc title’s reference to ecstasy has much more to do with a state of mind than a drug. This is the satori of free jazz, the trance of dance, and the techniques of electronics all combined in the mix to create wha…? Yeah, Kieran Hebden pulls out all the stops and sound effects here, but they are in service to the songs rather than vice versa. Consider the aptly titled “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions”. For almost eight minutes Hebden creates a jungle (complete with the sounds of synthesized parrots squawking) where the next sound you hear might be your own heartbeat. The calm atmosphere pulsates with strange noises and patterns of notes that take on their on shapes and meanings in your own mind.
Steve Horowitz PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Steve Porter, Homegrown (Fade)

Imagine the Alan Parsons Project, circa 1977, together with the Chemical Brothers in, say, 1996, along with some Plastikman from last year. That is where we’re at with this smoking gun from Boston. His PR people claim that it’s “Progressive House”, but that sounds like a pre-school in Cambridge, so let’s not do that; he calls it “Porterhouse”, but that’s a nasty cut of meat and we’re vegetarian-friendly around here. So let’s call it funky and slippery and only occasionally glitchy, and let’s say that it all fits together like the Detroit Pistons. Standout club hits like “Swanky” and “Vodka Cranberries” are nice and shiny, and the filler isn’t too filler-ish at all — also, though I’m no expert, I think Porter’s transitions are really something special, and the record’s flow is smooth like the motion of light on water. Top marks, and he’s just getting started.
Matt Cibula Amazon iTunes

Caribou, The Milk of Human Kindness (Domino)

After the dazzling cut-and-paste euphoria of 2003’s Up in Flames, Dan Snaith emerged two years later, with a new moniker (the threat of a lawsuit forced him to abandon Manitoba in favor of Caribou), and a slightly altered sound that marked a clear departure from the previous album, yet still retained all the charm of Snaith’s earlier work. Equal parts organic and electronic, The Milk of Human Kindness seems more stripped down, but Snaith’s soundscapes draw from a much broader musical palette, as we get hints of folk (“Hello Hammerheads”), ‘60s garage rock (“Bees”), krautrock (“A Final Warning”), and hip-hop (“Lord Leopard”). “Yeti” and the stirring “Barnowl” do revisit the aural collage style of Up in Flames, but it’s much less chaotic, as the restraint Snaith exercises makes for a rather elegant, understated end result. Like a birthday sparkler following up a fireworks display, this album doesn’t have the flash of its predecessor, but it does exude a subtle charm of its own.
Adrien Begrand PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Boards of Canada, The Campfire Headphase (Warp)

The Campfire Headphase is more than a simple record: it’s a run-in with the surreal. It tempts the mind to exploratory depths with wispy fingers. Demonstrating the tension between the electronic and the organic with deft ability and talent, Boards of Canada introduce guitars which intermingle with the electronic washes and down-tempo rhythms, affirming the livelihood of a progressive brand of electronic music that exists outside of the niches but still at a level of access. The Campfire Headphase points toward a universal musical euphoria. It is transcendent, surreal, haunting, and mysterious at any given moment, a flood of emotive warmth often lost in music rooted in electronic forms. Boards of Canada create some of the most stunning musical textures in the business and The Campfire Headphase shows them doing exactly that — executing, with extreme precision, both freedom and restraint. This record is pure bliss.
Zack Adcock PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Kobol, Broken Ebony (Static Discos)

When Ignacio Chavez is Plankton Man, he constructs dope-ass Nortec jamz full of Mexican banda samples and snare hits from God’s drummer. But here he imports drummer Argel Medina and makes something much, much weirder: an IDM record that actually has an ass to it. I’m not sure if one can dance to “Hilton” or “Es Particular,” but they both have momentum and kick and excitement to go with the weird squiggles and deep throbs. This often sounds like space cabaret Afrobeat (“Delevan”) or Le Hot Club de Robojazz (“Trio in a Box”, the most aptly named track in the history of the world), and even goes ambient freak-squawk for “Terror Pig”, which I’m pretty sure is for Donald Rumsfeld. But there is no denying that it’s genius, especially on the shiny “Command Station”, which puts the cool in culo for realz.
Matt Cibula Amazon

LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem (DFA/Capitol)

Let’s get the albatross out of the way: indie hipsterdom. At the dawn of the year, LCD Soundsystem was riding a massive crest of hype, and for good reason: James Murphy is a co-founder of the designer urban New York dance label and production team known as DFA, and his band is its flagship act. Three years ago, Murphy knowingly declared himself out of vogue in the most ironic sense possible over the type of butt-shaking beat that indie kids hadn’t heard since “Da Funk” back in 1996. Fast forward eight years, and thousands of scenesters hanging on Pitchfork’s every word, who bought every 12” single that Other Music had to offer, waited with bated breath and anxious glee to watch their former dance hero fall from grace. Fortunately, LCD Soundsystem surpasses their small-mindedness entirely. The double-disc delivered here, a full-length album plus a compendium of all the earlier singles, gives the new millennium its proper successor to New Order’s Substance: a dazzling electro array of punk, funk, dance, and a teaspoon each of Floyd and Eno, osterizing every record Murphy has ever namedropped into his own memorable concoction. Goodbye, albatross; hello, global stardom.
Richard Williams PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Richie Hawtin, DE9: Transitions (Novamute)

The possibility exists that, given enough time, Richie Hawtin may be drawn so deeply into the electronic music world’s ever-expanding nexus of technology and musical skill that he might disappear entirely, becoming a mote on the event horizon broadcasting deep bass-tones at a frequency far beyond the ability of the human ear to register. Until that day, however, we shall have to enjoy these infrequent updates from the future of music. Although the full sonic range of this CD/DVD combo is almost ludicrously overmatched against any but the most sophisticated sound systems, Hawtin’s mix remains a deeply enjoyable, multi-layered, and surprisingly emotional experience regardless of how much you paid for your boombox. At the end of the day, all the tricks and toys and technological advancements are meaningless without a significant human context. While there is no doubt that Hawtin enjoys his toys, he never loses sight of the profoundly soulful and inescapably sexual dynamic at the heart of dance music.
Tim O’Neil PopMatters review Amazon

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