The 25 Best Electronic Albums of 2019
Electronic music is a huge tent with so many diverse approaches, and it's more international than ever with producers around the globe pushing music forward. The year's best albums featured returns from established talents, as well as ground-breaking newcomers, and a host of women changing the old boy's club of electronic music.
25. Thom Yorke - Anima [XL Recordings]
Undoubtedly one of the most gifted frontmen of his generation, there had always felt like something was missing from Thom Yorke's solo career. While he had the ideas, ability, and enthusiasm to explore his more electronic vision, something was lacking in the execution. It was if he could never fit his songwriting personality in with the electronic music he wanted to make. Additionally, he always seemed a little too in thrall to the likes of Burial, Four Tet, Flying Lotus, and the classic 1990s IDM sound.
However, with Anima, everything seemed to finally click. Musically, it was still Yorke's take on electronic music, full of shadow beats and fidgety breaks but with a greater sense of melody and, most importantly, a sense of humanity. Of course, the post-millennial angst is all present and correct, but the ripples of chords that close the skittering "Twist", the achingly beautiful "Dawn Chorus", and the orchestral swells that close "Not the News" give the album more relatable, emotional heft. Coupled with marimba rhythms, dubby basslines, and genuinely catchy hooks, this felt like his most inventive and most rewarding solo album to date. On Anima, Yorke finally found his groove. - Paul Carr
24. Cosey Fanni Tutti - TUTTI [Conspiracy International]
Originally intended to be a soundtrack for the 2017 film Harmonic COUMaction (part of the COUM Transmissions retrospective), the eponymous, to-the-point sophomore solo album TUTTI is one of the purest manifestations of the English musician, performance artist, and ex Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanni Tutti. At times appearing as a reimagined, what-if career retrospective, TUTTI glows with driven techno moods pieced out from crushing electronic sounds, jazzy syncopations, and ambience while remaining only faintly reminiscent of the dark and shocking industrial flutters which Tutti pioneered. More often than not this is confident, lovingly twisted meditation music
Throughout, TUTTI shows traces of Tutti's more recent dub techno experiments, explored with Chris Carter and Nik Void in Carter Tutti Void, while simultaneously echoing her early, post-Throbbing Gristle synthpop collaborations with Chris Carter (Chris & Cosey/Carter Tutti). Despite this occasional familiarity, the music feels authentic, not merely a collection of (re)visited sounds, but rather as a twist and playful reinterpretation. An extension of her long and fruitful career, no doubt, but also an exciting new chapter. - Antonio Poscic
23. Zonal - Wrecked [Relapse]
Since co-founding the now-defunct industrial hip-hop duo Techno Animal in 1990, Kevin Martin (The Bug, King Midas Sound) and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu, JK Flesh) have never stopped collaborating and crafting viciously heavy and brutal music. In that sense, their revival of the Zonal project—a spiritual descendant of Techno Animal that had been lingering in hibernation for two decades—doesn't stray far, with burrowing bass and beats, boomy dub lines, noise incursions, and droning electronics painting a cruel atmosphere.
But what elevates Wrecked above their other releases and Techno Animal's output are the contributions of Camae Ayewa alias Moor Mother, who gives the pair's bleak and oppressive instrumentals an urgent purpose. No longer an autopoietic exercise, the music on Zonal's debut proper becomes a megaphone, a colossal amplifier for Ayewa's incisive vocal lines that trace the deep roots of injustice and continually spreading oppression against women and black people. As her voice guides textures and navigates around peaks of Martin and Broadrick's barbed industrial inflections, the lyrics flesh out a warning, a weary battle-cry: "The story of Babylon / The chosen the falling ones / we all forgotten / The system is rotten." - Antonio Poscic
22. Konx-om-Pax - Ways of Seeing [Planet Mu]
The origin of Berlin techno not only entails a certain sound but a great feeling of community and optimism. Electronic producer and visual artist Tom Scholefield, aka Konx-om-Pax, recalls this optimism on his latest album Ways of Seeing. The 11-track album embodies his relocation from Glasgow to Berlin, inspiring a shift from dense ambient and rave to minimal electronica. Yet, while Scholefield adopts the minimal structures of Berlin techno, he rejects its recent tones that have become bleaker and more industrial. Rather, he revels in joyous melodic arpeggios, alluding to the roots of Berlin techno.
Scholefield explains that Ways of Seeing is "a panacea to the darkness and disorientation all around in 2019". With titles such as "Optimism Over Despair", this message is clear. And on this track, melodies move frenetically, from open to close. Each lush arpeggio thrusts into another without suspension, demanding an endless dance. Even throwing in the classic "Woo! Yeah!" drum break, vivid images of 1990s hedonists presume. - Hans Kim
21. Ossia - Devil’s Dance [Blackest Ever Black]
Daniel Davies, the Bristol-based producer under the Ossia moniker, has been eloquently crafting a disturbing mirror image of electronic music. The Bristol scene has always displayed the willingness to experiment with key traditions in electronica, but Ossia's vision takes these ideas to a completely different level. The thrilling vibe and the bombastic sounds are not present in Devil's Dance. Instead of the monotonous repetitions there is a strange laid-back feeling. Where the sharp synths usually roam, there are instead mysterious noise pads echoing through vast rooms. And in the place of a dark neon lighted dance floor is a dark, humid space. That is the world that Ossia rule over, a strange realm filled with a sense of dread, an ambiance that resembles more a downtrodden David Lynch-ian jazz bar than a club. And it is glorious to behold. - Spyros Stasis
20. Weval - The Weight [Kompakt]
There is a beautiful set of paradoxes inherent in Weval's second full-length album The Weight, involving light and darkness, light and heaviness, art and pop, and other polarities too numerous to mention. But for all of the diametrical oppositions this suggests, there is a terrific synthesis that ultimately resolves all of those polarities into a wonderfully interwoven sequence of instrumental and vocal music. All of this might sound rather pretentious in a way that the album itself isn't; it's fully accessible and deceptively easy to listen to without in any way even remotely approaching easy listening territory.
There are many twists and turns of sound and feeling as the album progresses, and the overall effect feels both hermetic and inviting at the same time. This is a world of sound that is simultaneously closed off and self-contained while also seeming to invent and invite a community of listeners and participants who are welcome to roam around inside the scene it has created. In this way, it also functions as an album that works equally well alone and with company, fully outward-facing, or fully solitary on headphones or while driving. This versatility is only one of the many pleasures The Weight has to offer. - Rod Waterman
19. A Winged Victory for the Sullen - The Undivided Five [Ninja Tune]
Both classical and ambient electronic music often have the power to transcend the physical and take the listener somewhere otherworldly. By blending the two, Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, as A Winged Victory for the Sullen, do exactly that while also managing to tease out complicated and difficult to articulate emotions.
After working on scores of film, TV, and stage commissions, The Undivided Five is the pair's fifth release together and one that embraces the importance of the number five in art and music. Particularly inspired by Hilma af Klint's work with four other like-minded artists known as the "Friday Group" or "The Five" as well as the importance of the perfect fifth to harmony in music theory.
Musically, the pair weave a rich tapestry of complex electronic and neoclassical textures with layers of rich orchestration and analogue synths. However, it's also an album of contrasts. Many of the pieces seem to be searching for a counterpoint, whether that be a lightness to the darkness, resolution to moments of doubt or ugliness to passages of haunting beauty. - Paul Carr
18. E-Saggila - My World, My Way [Northern Electronics]
My World, My Way is a record of maturity for E-Saggila. It is the moment where all the diverse influences that have defined the producer's sound and vision are elegantly weaved together into a cohesive and definitive form. Abstract noise, coupled with field recordings and abrupt industrial-esque explosions, lead into an ecstatic hard techno onslaught in opener "Aziza". And thus goes the remainder of this work, with E-Saggila constantly pushing boundaries always going the extra mile to create an even more extreme and extravagant outlook. The electrifying beats of "Crimson Liquescence" speak towards that modus operandi, presenting a disfigured and terrifying form, as do the processed vocals of "Alia". This hard-hitting expression always persists in E-Saggila's work, even through the epic melodies of "One Last Midnight", and it is exactly that viewpoint, that refusal to take the foot off the pedal that is so essential today. - Spyros Stasis
17. Bjarki - Happy Earthday [!K7]
The characteristics of the natural environment can shape everything from our behaviour to the relationships we form. For Icelandic producer and DJ, Bjarki, the environment he was brought up in defines him and is central to the music he created on his phenomenal debut album Happy Earthday. Consequently, the album was full of the puzzling dualities and dichotomies of being, heightened by his, almost spiritual reverence for nature. Sonically, the album mirrored the dazzling, rich, natural variations of his environment. Tracks moved from melancholic mournful passages stimulated by energising breakbeats to glitchy, IDM with hooks cultivated from the sounds of nature. It was an album that could be understood as a reflection of the artist who made it, as a representation of the power and majesty of nature, or simply as a brilliant, intricate electronic album. The fact that it could be understood and enjoyed as any combination of the three demonstrates what a remarkable piece of work it really was. - Paul Carr
16. Jay Mitta - Tatizo Pesa [Nyege Nyege Tapes]
In the Lugandan spoken language, "Nyege Nyege" translates to "the feeling of a sudden uncontrollable urge to move, shake or dance". Never has a name so perfectly described a label as is the case with the Kampala, Uganda outfit Nyege Nyege Tapes, which throughout 2019 released record after record of music possessing and possessed, made for and in honor of dance. Among these excellent releases, Dar Es Salaam's Sisso Studios core producer Jay Mitta crafted the most unique album, a 180-plus BPM singeli maelstrom called Tatizo Pesa that reaches farthest into realms of whirling introspection.
Dominated by frantic rhythms, splintered electronics, and neck-twisting drum and synth lines, Tatizo Pesa is simultaneously raw and, upon clear-headed inspection, unexpectedly varied. Indeed, its sonorous subconscious, hidden beneath an exhilarating, energetic persona, draws heavily from folk as Mitta implants melodies, swishing samples, and blazing rap segments (courtesy of MC Dogo Janja) in the non-stop hyper-speed insanity. One of 2019's most joyful albums and one of the best singeli records to date. - Antonio Poscic
15. Loraine James - For You & I [Hyperdub]
Artists like Loraine James are here to glitch and queer the narrative. On her second full length For You and I, she rightfully claims the title "Glitch Bitch" to explore what it means to be queer in the spaces of IDM and one of its places of origin, London.
For You and I is noticeably inspired by IDM, but it certainly glitches for a different purpose. In "Queering the Borderlands", Emma Pérez intimates about dominant narratives, "all of these and more must be reinterpreted with a decolonial queer gaze so we may interrogate representations". Coincidentally, the act of distorting the dominant gaze resembles one of IDM's main techniques, glitching. And for James, glitching creates schisms in normative structures, creating spaces in which new expressions can emerge. - Hans Kim
14. Nkisi - 7 Directions [UIQ]
The sound of Congolese musician Nkisi's second full-length is deceptively minimal. Built around a compact body of reverberated and delayed electronic pads, synthetic drums, and slightly noisier effects, 7 Directions holds an irrepressible urge to move, progress, and fall back. And when objects of melody and repetition stumble into the music's path, disrupting the meticulously revolving syncopations, they are swiftly swept aside.
Inspired, like all of her work, by Bantu cosmology, the album's main stylistic points can be traced to Congolese rhythms and European rave traditions. Never standing still, 7 Directions shows us glimpses of hard techno, dub, trance, and even gabber lost amidst the unsteadily stable rhythmic foundation and constantly (re)building atmospheres. Based on her research on psychoacoustics, Nkisi has created an unsettling and transporting album. An artifact of elusive, mysterious beauty. - Antonio Poscic
13. Plaid - Polymer [Warp]
British duo Plaid has long been one of the most innovative and forward-thinking names in electronic music. Pick any album from their long career and you're met with intricate rhythms, glitchy IDM beats and wonderfully cerebral diversions that seemed to toy with the very notion of space, depth and time. New album Polymer was no different, however, it was also a very different beast from anything they have done before. Full of characteristic knotty rhythmic detours and tricky beats, there was also an edge to the album that took the music in bold, previously unexplored new directions. Inspired by modern themes of environment, synthetics, mortality and human connection every light, playful element is counterbalanced by something altogether darker - like black, rain clouds slowly enveloping a clear blue sky. On Polymer Plaid sounded liberated as they successfully tied the tracks to pertinent, unified themes on one of their most well-rounded and striking albums to date. - Paul Carr
12. Paula Temple - Edge of Everything [Noise Manifesto]
It took 15 years for Preston-born, Amsterdam-based techno producer Paula Temple to release her debut album, but the wait was very much worth it. Dealing with an especially hard and rumbustious variant of the genre, Edge of Everything is a sublimation of Temple's career and a self-contained manifestation of her vividly felt scene influence.
As such, the 12 cuts don't leave much room for introspection. Pummeling beats stand in formation while groveling rhythms collide and drag them down, followed closely by screaming synth lines and abrasive pads. Even moments of fleeting silence feel aggressive, as if the atmosphere had been sucked out from the music, while angry matter from alternate dimensions bleeds in and takes its place. And amidst this dark breathing, any melodies that manage to surface are soon devoured by the dark pressure of whispers and inflamed hisses. Industriously metallic, astonishingly intense, and heavily overpowering music. - Antonio Poscic
11. Ekiti Sound – Abeg No Vex [Crammed Discs]
On the first track of Abeg No Vex, producer Leke Awayinka's first album under the name Ekiti Sound, majestic keys lead into lyrics that describe life in Nigeria – the "Land of the Talking Drum", as the track calls it – and a sense of identity tied into the associated history and landscape. It makes for a perfect introduction to an album that draws on local folklore, national popular music traditions from the last century to paint a portrait of the Nigeria Awayinka knows. As Ekiti Sound, he builds on that experience with an eclectic mix of vocals, beats, and samples. The songs of Abeg No Vex range from dancehall jams and trance music to melancholy reflections on the more tragic moments of life in Lagos – and that's hardly the limit of Ekiti Sound's creativity. Multilingual and sonically diverse, Abeg No Vex is bold and unpredictable, a new perspective on older traditions that makes it very easy to get up and dance. - Adriane Pontecorvo
10. Octo Octa - Resonant Body [T4T LUV NRG]
The music of Brooklyn-based producer and DJ Maya Bouldry-Morrison alias Octo Octa is, in large part, a reflection of the artist herself, her transformation, and growth over the last three years. Like 2017's Where Are We Going?, Resonant Body carries music built with purpose and made to overflow with love and a frank coming of age adventurism. Subatomic explosions of joy become exuberant arpeggios and dance-inviting beats, infecting each second of the sweet, vibrant mixture of breakbeat and house.
While never explicitly stated, Resonant Body feels like an attempt at translating the ecstatic interaction of bodies on a club's dancefloor to relationships and situations in everyday life by exploring dynamics between parts of one's being and links with others. Connected by this silent overarching concept, cuts like "Deep Connections" and "My Body Is Power" explore love and spirituality, which Bouldry-Morrison channels into gorgeous rave anthems. Will we ever be so free? Might we capture that euphoria and physical freedom of bodies moving, thrashing, and rubbing together in sweat? Could we ever accept others with such empathy? Resonant Body certainly gives us hope. - Antonio Poscic
9. Giant Swan - Giant Swan [Keck]
The duo of Robin Stewart and Harry Wright never shied away from their hardcore origin. Even the name of their project is taken from post-hardcore legends the Blood Brothers. And it is exactly this energy and perspective that Giant Swan would start to explore through their initial EPs and single releases leading up to their self-titled debut record. Their 2019 full-length oozes with the exhilarating energy and volatility that has defined Giant Swan, with the relentless rhythmic noise attitude of "55 Year Old Daughter" and "Pandaemonium" leading the way. Industrial machinations find their way into this volatile mix, infecting the techno core of Giant Swan, while the duo also opens up to dark ambient inclinations in order to build a terrifying minimalistic atmosphere in "Spisbah". This off-kilter take is a direct result of Giant Swan's outsider status when it comes to electronic music, and their debut record highlights how dire it is to have more bands with the same mentality. - Spyros Stasis
8. Silk Road Assasins - State of Ruin [Planet Mu]
Electronic music is all about fusing diverse and discordant elements together to create something genuinely new. Genres and subgenres are born from these revelatory moments when artists are prepared to scatter the seeds and attentively tend to the roots of a genre to see what grows. However, there are always artists who modify those initial seeds in unexpected ways to cultivate something unfamiliar and as a result, pull electronic music in a wholly unexpected direction. On new album State of Ruin from British production trio, Silk Road Assassins did exactly that.
Taking their wealth of experience of composing production music for films and video games and their understanding of sound design, they used sci-fi sound design as a means of exploring the minimalist structures of trap and grime. Everything about the album inhabited its own environment, occupying its own sense of time and space. By taking these various, often antagonistic and contradictory elements and shaping them into something new, the trio created a deep and absorbing album.
7. Blanck Mass - Animated Violence Mild [Sacred Bones]
Benjamin John Power's trajectory with Blanck Mass has been surprising. Initially tapping into a minimal, ambient based space with his debut record, stepping away from the abrupt sound of Fuck Buttons, the producer has stunningly returned to an explosive and brutal paradigm. Each Blanck Mass record sounds more aggressive than the last, and this journey has now brought forth Power's most savage moment in Animated Violence Mild.
The result is a thunderous work that binds together the volatility of noise, the extreme sensory effect of EBM and the detached dread of industrial under a strangely experimental roof. Opener "Death Drop" is a prime example of this unyielding attitude. However, that does not suggest that Power does not find the space for melody and sentiment. The beautiful lead moments of "House vs. House" and the striking progression of "No Dice" display a much more elegant core. It is the combination of these two worlds that Blanck Mass perform so well, and Animated Violence Mild is a resounding testament to Power's uncompromising perspective. - Spyros Stasis
6. Jayda G - Significant Changes [Ninja Tune]
It's a brave artist who attempts to bring a more serious message onto the dancefloor. Normally, the club is where clubbers go for release. A safe place where people can escape the more significant issues that face our world and simply lose themselves in the music. However, British Columbia native, Jayda Guy (Jada G) sincerely believes that there is room for club music that makes people think about the environment, particularly the conservation of our marine life. This is a distinctly personal issue for Guy.
At the same time as completing her Masters in Resource and Environmental Management, she was also writing the music that would become her debut album Significant Changes. Naturally, her studies had a profound effect on her music and ultimately lead to an album that admirably aimed to get those on the dancefloor thinking as well as grooving. From Chicago house beats to sumptuous R&B and jazzy breaks, Significant Changes wrapped its pertinent message in adventurous, exciting music. As a platform for further discussion and as a funky, hip-shaking, unifying electronic album, Significant Changes was a triumph. - Paul Carr
5. WaqWaq Kingdom - Essaka Hoisa [Phantom Limb]
For all its cartoonish colorfulness (manifested by the wonderful cover) and the bombastic aural and visual attack reminiscent of naive post-internet art, the second album by Kiki Hitomi (Dokkebi Q, King Midas Sound) and Shigeru "Shige" Ishihara (DJ Scotch Egg) under the WaqWaq Kingdom name deals with very serious themes. Ruminations on existence, spirituality, estrangement, and the ongoing ecological crisis are enveloped in an eclectic blend of historic and modern sounds and composition approaches.
Musically speaking, Essaka Hoisa dances around with complex polyrhythms and high tempos—Ishihara and Hitomi call their style "minyo footwork", after all—above which broken, grandiose synths and found sounds twirl in frantic loops. The result is beautifully technicolor, dazzling like a kaleidoscope observed while tripping on LSD and evoking sonic images from Japanese enka, dub, Afrobeat, and various electronic traditions. But like real life, this lush aesthetic holds sober, if not dark sentiments within its deliriously childlike delivery, never letting us forget the pain and suffering that exists in the world. - Antonio Poscic
4. Floating Points - Crush [Ninja Tune]
Anyone lucky enough to see Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) DJ live, will know that he most certainly does things his way. From dropping in jazzy, ambient tracks when common sense would dictate it better to turn the crowd rabid with a euphoric banger to launching wave after wave of pounding beats onto an unsuspecting dancefloor, Shepherd's sets are always unconventionally brilliant. As a producer, his output has been similarly varied. From the remarkably expansive, Elaenia album to the progressive EP Reflections: Mojave Desert few common threads run through his work.
It stands to reason, then, that new album, Crush would be one of the most delightfully unpredictable electronic albums released this year. At times it was an unapologetically, urgent, danceable record with stomping UK garage beats and sinewy, bassy rhythms that demanded to be listened to at maximum volume in cavernous night clubs. Other times, tracks seemed to fracture, mid-play with shards breaking off and taking on a whole new life of their own. Then, there were moments of such tranquil, serene calm, that the listener could simply kick back and drift away. Crush was an album of profound contrast, which made for an intriguing, distinctive album that you feel time will be very kind to. - Paul Carr
3. Klein - Lifetime [Ijn Inc.]
Lifetime is the point of convergence for Klein. It is the record that the artist's creative footsteps were always leading up to. The experiments with funk, blues and R&B have been slowly dissolving through an electronic lens into an abstract deconstructionist form. Despite the brief lucid interval of "Claim It", with the intoxicating, solid rhythm producing a fairly standardized electronic offering, the remainder of Lifetime is a monumental climb using avant-garde ingenuity. The form of Lifetime remains constantly elusive, retaining a liquid-like fluidity as it fluently passes from noise and musique concrete ideas to spoken-word samples and ambient dives. The journey through Lifetime becomes a completely immersive adventure, one that uses the electrifying essence of electronica but without adhering to its traditional norms, opening up completely new paths for interpretation. - Spyros Stasis
2. Holly Herndon - PROTO [4AD]
Holly Herndon builds a kingdom upon fragmentation. Where most artists would try to create cohesive offerings, molding diverse ideas and influence into a solid form, she instead takes comfort within the fissures of her sound. Through the years, Herndon's focus has sharpened. On 2015's Platform, she found more mobility and melody, moving away from her early, techno-tinged noise. She goes even deeper with PROTO, freely employing choral arrangements, awakening a cyber-ceremonial presence, as in "Evening Shades" and "Frontier". The traditional elements of neoclassical and folk sounds provide a fantastic dichotomy with forward-thinking ones.
She takes the same approach to balancing her pop and experimental sensibilities. "Alienation" and "Eternal" allow for the direct and catchy implementation of glitch bliss yet maintain the delicate core of her vision. She dives deep into ambient, spoken-word electronica in "Extreme Love" and "Bridge". And then there's the futuristic AI inhumanity of "Godmother", featuring the incredible Jlin, which simply annihilates everything. On PROTO, Herndon weaves a rich and unsettling tapestry, indelibly intertwining (wo)man and machine. - Spyros Stasis
1. Underworld - Drift Series 1 [Caroline]
In November last year, British electronic duo Underworld embarked on what was easily the most ambitious challenge of their long career. The band set themselves the goal of releasing a brand new, fully produced song complete with visuals every day for 52 whole weeks. Compiled as the Drift Series 1 box set, the whole project saw the band release some of the best work of their career.
Throughout, Smith and Hyde steered the band down both familiar and previously unexplored avenues. Most remarkably every track on the album is there on merit as fully formed pieces with developed hooks and melodies rather than failed experiments or abandoned jams. From more crystalline ambient pieces that draw you in, heart and soul to characteristic throbbing techno pieces that work the body to more experimental pieces, there is something for everyone.
Taken as it is, the band actually made six very different, equally brilliant Underworld albums, and that's only if you chose to listen linearly. The beauty of the project is that you could dip in and out or you could rearrange tracks into your own playlists like a glorious musical pick 'n' mix. Few artists could have pulled off something so creatively daring so spectacularly. - Paul Carr