best-electronic-albums-2020

Image by Cornelia Schneider-Frank from Pixabay

The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2020

​Electronic music is a huge tent with 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.

10. DJ Python – Mas Amable [Incensio]

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We generally use terms like “airy”, “lush”, and “ethereal” to describe music that is ambient and beat-less. Enter DJ Python—aka Bryan Piniero—whose music is often described in such terms despite going heavy on the groove. In Python’s world, few sounds come to us cleanly or sharply; instead, they come bathed in a sleek, vaporous, watery tone, everything smudged and saturated at the corners. Nowhere is this more evident than on Mas Amable, his latest LP for the Incensio label. It’s his first full-length since 2017’s Dulce Compañia, where he first perfected his unique, downtempo style of “deep reggaeton”.

On Mas Amable, everything plods along in a liquid haze. Each song slowly mutates into the next, and each sound seems to become something unlike itself. The album is essentially driven by one groove, but that groove takes so many odd twists and turns that by the end, it’s barely recognizable. Yet these twists and turns occur so gradually, and with such microtonal precision, that the effect is literally hypnotic: you feel like you couldn’t possibly be listening to the same beat, but you are. The whole thing is one long, loopy, continuous dream, drifting but never arriving, sedating but never dulling. — Parker Desautell


9. Rival Consoles – Articulation [Erased Tapes]

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“I love that something on paper can appear rigid and calculated,” says Ryan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles, “but then take on new meaning based on the context that surrounds it, or how it changes over time.” West is referring to his new approach to composition, which resulted in Articulation, his first album since Persona in 2018. While writing the album, West drew structures, shapes, and patterns by hand to find new ways of thinking about music. Without the aid of a trusty computer, new sounds and musical patterns emerged.

The result is something that may not be an enormous departure from his previous works, but there are changes apparent in the finished product. Articulation is an intensely fluid album. There is a constant feeling of forward motion, but small detours and unique approaches to audio samples make this an album that fascinates by not sticking to the same old techno tropes. — Chris Ingalls


8. Tristan Perich – Drift Multiply [New Amsterdam/Nonesuch]

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If you’ve ever had the experience where an artist’s statement ends up being more tantalizing than the work it describes, Tristan Perich‘s Drift Multiply flips the script on that experience. In this case, the music on Drift Multiply outshines the inspiration suggested by Perich. Perich is certainly a thoughtful artist working with a fertile concept. But knowing about this music’s building blocks before listening imposes something of a distraction here, as it primes the listener to expect a highly left-brained experience borne of the New York-based composer’s fascination with numbers and code. The surprisingly fluid Drift Multiply eludes any stereotypes you might have based on how the music was constructed. And, for the most part, the album falls about as far from synthetic-sounding as music gets.

Fans of film scores, minimalism, avant-garde composition, ambient electronic music, and drone should all find much to sink their teeth into here. Perich certainly isn’t the first to integrate those forms. His method of assembling them into a unified system—his distinct physics of sound where an individual violin line can both blur into the background and stand out simultaneously—would certainly have been impressive enough. Perhaps Perich’s ultimate feat is the way he’s come up with a long, drawn-out piece of music that’s this inviting despite itself. As cerebral as Perich’s approach seems to be (he has, for example, released printouts of binary code with his music in the past), Drift Multiply requires zero thinking or analysis to enjoy. Listen attentively, though, and it becomes apparent that this album is a game-changer on multiple fronts. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


7. Nicolas Bougaïeff – The Upward Spiral [Mute]

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“I leverage every single aspect of every musical tradition I’ve learned and borrow bits and bobs,” explains Nicolas Bougaïeff about his latest album, The Upward Spiral. “That’s a process I’ve been doing ever since I started embracing composition as my vocation about 20 years ago.” Although his musical endeavors seem firmly embedded in industrial techno (for now), Bougaïeff — who grew up playing violin and saxophone before feeling the pull of synthesizers and programming — clearly enjoys playing around with the genre and pushing it past what’s expected. There’s a complexity at work that’s a bit startling and exceptionally refreshing.

Even the title, The Upward Spiral, has an unconventionally positive spin. It’s an indication that the nine tracks contained herein are assembled and executed in an unexpected fashion. While the album title seems to be a bit of a playful jab at the 1994 Nine Inch Nails classic, the name of the opening track – “Embrace Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” – goes a step further by turning Dante on its head. Fortunately, it’s not all witty titular wordplay. That track, a thumping salvo of groaning, low-end synth rumbles and aggressive, off-kilter beats, is relentless, but it continually evolves with its smartly shifting sound design. — Chris Ingalls


6. Nahash – Flowers of the Revolution [SVBKVLT]

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There’s no more fitting time for Flowers of the Revolution, the unabashedly political debut album from Nahash. The most impressive thing about Flowers of the Revolution, however, is that it manages to be so unabashedly political despite being almost devoid of vocals. The politics come through in the struggle of contrasting elements—the natural against the modular, the tribal against the industrial, the human against the machine.

Politics aside, Flowers of the Revolution is an album that really and truly bops. These songs have loose, kinetic energy that puts Nahash at the fore of young producers going today. There’s a feeling of controlled chaos here, of different voices and sounds struggling for control of the music, different grooves threatening to break out over other grooves. At a time when so many different voices are struggling for control and authoritarian regimes are threatening to quash those voices, Flowers of the Revolution feels like the album we all needed. — Parker Desautell

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