5. Ghetto Kumbé – Ghetto Kumbé [ZZK Records]
“We created an African tribe look from the future. A psychedelic African tribe from the 21st century,” says Edgardo Garces (aka Guajiro), in regard to Ghetto Kumbé’s aesthetic. This is evident from the Afrofuturistic album art on the group’s debut LP. It’s also evident in their music, in its mishmash of traditional African rhythms and popular Latin house beats. There’s something raw, primal, and earthy in Ghetto Kumbé’s music, with its hand drums, wood flutes, and call-and-response vocals. But it’s also full of funky bass, Caribbean grooves, and hi-fi electronic production, lending it an Afrofuturism aura.
Ghetto Kumbé’s chemistry, virtuosity, and songcraft just keep getting better. However, what sets them apart is their ability to mix the traditional and modern so seamlessly in their music. One minute you’re on a Colombian dance floor, and the next, you’re singing along with the tribes of West Africa. Ghetto Kumbé’s fusion of roots music with bass-driven dance bangers may have its parallels — the world of Afro-futurism stretches far and wide these days — but their execution is unmatched. — Parker Desautell
4. CS + Kreme – Snoopy [The Trilogy Tapes]
The magic of CS + Kreme‘s music is that it is both sleepy and unsettling at once. It’s sedating, but it’s a little too sinister for drifting off to. On Snoopy, their full-length debut, the Melbourne duo of Sam Kermel and Conrad Standish take this approach to its logical conclusion. This is an album too occultic and otherworldly to fit anywhere in the modern world of soulless electronica. The whole thing is full of blunted beats, sleazy 808 bass, and grooves that will put you in an absolute trance. At times it’s outright medieval, like on “Faun House,” with its hellish pipe organ and creepily-plucked harpsichord. But it’s also deeply romantic, like on “Time Is a Bozo”, with its slow-motion vocal chants and majestic brass section. If fusions of electronic music with classical instruments is your thing, then you can’t go wrong with Snoopy. It’s music for the netherworld, and it’s unlike anything you’ll hear all year. — Parker Desautell
3. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround [PAN]
Every click and cut is pasted in the right place on Beatrice Dillon’s wonderful Workaround. The drums are so sharp they sound like they’ve been individually sterilized, reverb is completely absent, and melodies are tiny swimming fish rather than hooks. Yet somehow, all these sounds generate a terrific sense of motion—not the linear propulsion of great dance music, but a tactile 3D quality, as if the music is expanding and contracting before our eyes.
Dillon composed the album at 150 BPM, a tricky tempo not commonly used in electronic music, and then let her collaborators improvise at will over them. Most hotshot producers putting out their debut would dial up big names, but Dillon is more interested in introducing her audiences to new ones, like Senegalese griot Kadialy Kouyaté or jazz pedal steel player Jonny Lam. The sound of Kouyaté’s kora or Kuljit Bhamra’s tabla brings bright splashes into this monochrome world, making this the rare electronic album as joyful as it is pinpoint precise. — Daniel Bromfield
2. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song [Smalltown Supersound]
The Welsh electronic auteur Kelly Lee Owens came of age on her on-point and emphatic second long-player, a trippily euphoric record which adroitly joined the dots between club-ready pop bangers, chilly synths, and meditative introspection. From the creepy, Boards of Canada-like haze of her take on Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” through to the Steve Reich gone Aphex Twin head-banging of “Jeanette” and the strings- festooned and angelic lullaby that is “Wake-Up”, Inner Song seeks to transport the listener to a mental space of serenity, healing, and acceptance. The punchy “Melt!” provides the record’s purest dancefloor moment, whilst the mournful ambient ballad, “Corner of My Sky”, is decorated by John Cale’s distinctive pipes. Inner Song proved important in 2020 because it signifies its creator’s growing assurance as both singer and producer, breathing new life into electronic pop whilst alchemizing promise into weighty and refined artistry. — Michael Sumsion
1. Ital Tek – Outland [Planet Mu]
While Ital Tek’s Bodied was written in snatched moments during periods working on other projects, the writing of new album Outland took place in self-imposed seclusion as he grappled with the joy and heightened anxiety of becoming a new parent. As such, Outland is a much more restless and jittery album, born from sleepless nights and overwhelming emotional fluctuations. While it broadly exists in a similarly rich and vividly constructed world as Bodied, the tracks on Outland see Ital Tek navigate much more extreme and unpredictable sonic terrain.
By delving deeper into the world he so distinctly rendered on Bodied, Ital Tek has made his most accessible album to date without compromising his unique musical vision. It’s an album of contrast and tension as tracks veer between extremes as if constantly searching for some kind of indefinable resolution. Ambitious and profound while remaining compelling unpredictable, it’s a constantly shape-shifting, all-encompassing musical experience. Outland is, quite simply, a masterpiece. — Paul Carr