The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2016
Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2016 highlights that as well as any other year on record.
15. The Range - Potential (Domino)
Electronic music, just in its name, suggests a coldness, a distance from humanity. That's what makes The Range's album Potential so special, in that he actually reached out to everybody sampled on the album, no matter how difficult to track down. The companion short documentary, Superimpose, is well worth a watch, and the interviews with each artist adds to the raw beauty of how James Hinton incorporated them into the songs. And, you know, the songs. Twinkling and pulsating synths back a synthesis of electronic styles that repurpose pop samples into something akin to the popular club music of our time. It's a hell of an achievement, and the humanity shown makes it that much better. -- Brian Duricy
14. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS (Western Vinyl)
Orcas Island artist Helen Loggie composed sketches of the indigenous vegetation and landscape exclusive to the tiny islands in Washington state. Trees slumped over like time-worn people, snow-peaked mountainous backdrops, and water imposing its will on tiny landforms. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith -- also a native daughter of Orcas Island -- crafts music on EARS with the same visual emphasis when Loggie captured nature's cycles. Smith begins the track "Wetlands" with a collection of found sounds and samples mimicking the noise nature models for us before an odd time signature and looped vocals appear like softened ululations. Modular synth sounds from her coveted Buchia 100 create an organic ebb and flow of rhythms and sounds on "Rare Things Grow". Sax in colors and shapes in place of musical notations cover the collection of primal clicks and water-filled sounds.
Appreciation for nature is exemplified through constant experimentation. "Arthropoda" is an invertebrate track, lacking the typical spine found in its composition. It creeps and crawls amidst the wooshing and warped fusion of looped vocals and bleated textures. Likewise, Smith's jazz-influenced "Stratus" reveal her penchant for dynamics, beginning with atonal sax patterns while the same diminutive melodies disappear as discreetly as a sunset. EARS starts with flight and ends contemplating the perpetual change that happens whether we notice it or not. -- Stephan Wyatt
13. Brood Ma - Daze (Tri-Angle)
Like the best releases from Arca, Brood Ma's Tri-Angle debut Daze eschews conventional song boundaries for a piece-length feeling -- "piece-length" because, at 27 minutes spread across 13 songs, this is more akin to a quick jaunt into the apocalypse than an album's ethos. But what a trip it is, squeezing the dystopic juices out of whatever instruments he could get his hands on, from a submerged bass ("Thorium Mox") to zipping synths right after ("Molten Brownian Motion"). It's an exhausting listen, and don't let the light peeking out on the cover fool you, Daze is all about a dive into the darkness. -- Brian Duricy
12. Mark Pritchard - Under the Sun (Warp)
With music released under so many guises, it might be surprising to learn that this is Mark Pritchard's first 'proper' solo album and one that sees him take cues from throughout his career. The glacial rhythms of Global Communication, the hip-hop influenced beats of Harmonic 313 and the more straightforward song structures of Troubleman are all present and correct. However, this sounds like nothing he has done before, sounding genuinely fresh and contemporary. The palette cleansing "?" provides a mournful and sombre ambient opening before giving way to a rolling, psychedelic track featuring suitably trippy vocals from Bibio. "Infrared" is a jarring, krautrock influenced gem and it soon becomes apparent in just three songs that this is going to be a journey unlike any Pritchard has produced before. Tracks spit and cackle, loop and thrum, lounge and hang, offering no clue as to which style he is going to explore next. The headline grabbing Thom Yorke collaboration "Beautiful People" is simply stunning while the hypnotic rhythm and the hair-raising spoken word narration of Bean's on "The Blinds Cage" provides another undoubted highlight. From motoric Krautrock beats to haunting balladry to delicate, dreamy ambience, this has something for everyone. Under the Sun finds Mark Pritchard comfortable in his own identity and producing, arguably, the finest album of his varied career. -- Paul Carr
11. Jay Daniel - Broken Knowz (Ninja Tune/Technicolour)
Broken Knowz sees Jay Daniel cast off the shadow of the Detroit techno scene and strike out on his own. When recording the album, Daniel looked to redefine his sound and in doing so picked up his drumsticks and retired to his Mother's basement. The result is a very human album with a clear identity that challenges the norms of the techno genre. "Last of the Dogons", "Paradise Valley" and "Nikki" see him build a percussive base allowing keyboard riffs and synth flourishes to fizzle and burst. From there Daniel explores the freedom of using live drums as he mixes them with programmed beats, culminating in the epic "Knowledge of Selfie" which serves as the album's centerpiece. Daniels has a clear, unique vision for himself as an artist. Not hamstrung by expectation or adherence to one particular genre. This is an enigmatic artist doing it on his terms. -- Paul Carr