Best Electronic Albums of 2021
Image by Cornelia Schneider-Frank from Pixabay

The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2021

The best electronic albums of the year feature many diverse approaches from electropop to IDM and ambient to footwork with artists pushing the music forward.

20. CFCF – memoryland [Independent]

CFCF - memoryland

Back in the mid-to-late ’90s, electronica was infiltrating almost every aspect of pop culture, as rock bands increasingly worked with dance producers and rave culture glowsticked its way ever closer into the mainstream. Artists like Basement Jaxx, Fatboy Slim, and Daft Punk ended up being celebrated in rock circles just as Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Records set the template for the dance industry — all of the things that Michael Silver remembers fondly.

While his CFCF moniker has found success in creating slow-moving and evocative music that often flirted with ambient, memoryland finds him lovingly giving a tribute to ’90s dance culture with an album as playful as it is surprising. Never before have we heard CFCF make full-bore rock numbers like “Punksong” or pure trance-pop fluff like “Heaven”, but he proves to be incredibly adept at honoring the era while making it something entirely his own. By the time “Self Service 1999” reveals itself as the best Daft Punk rip-off in recorded history, it’s clear that CFCF’s next era is going to be a can’t-miss event. – Evan Sawdey

19. Leon Vynehall – Rare, Forever [Ninja Tune]

Leon Vynehall - Rare Forever

Rare, Forever finds Leon Vynehall addressing the here and now. It’s Vynehall trying to orientate himself both artistically and personally and discovering a world of possibilities. That leads to a fragmented, complicated, unfixed place that takes the more conventional aspects of dance music and the wildly avant-garde and encourages them to lock lips in a euphoric embrace.

It soon becomes clear that Vynehall is out to deconstruct any existing preconceptions at every turn. Over a poem recited by three different voices, circling chords jarringly emerge from the shadows on “In>Pin” before quickly retreating. It’s a slowly building track with a twitchy, slightly unsettling beat that segues effortlessly into “Mothra” – a track that takes the same energy and wraps it around swirls of yawning saxophone. 

Rare, Forever synthesizes all of Vynehall’s musical instincts together into one unique vision. Both beguiling abstract and instantly gratifying, it’s as dizzyingly immersive as Nothing Is Still whilst occupying a totally different sonic space. – Paul Carr

18. Loscil – Clara [Kranky]

Loscil - Clara

With Clara, the sound sculptor Scott Morgan continues to astound. Morgan’s latest LP as Loscil – short, for the record, for “looping oscillator” – is an interesting conglomeration of his more recent efforts, combining both the airy and abstract sound-shapes of Equivalents with the somewhat ominous and more narrative-driven musique concrete of works like Monument Builders. The result is a beguiling work that toys with space between light and shadow while touching on themes of space and gravity as all-encompassing and inspiring as the universe itself.

What’s most entrancing might be the fact that, without taking detours, the Canadian artist manages to keep his work feeling fresh and unanticipated. Clara could be read as a kind of deep dive into the textures of shadow, abandoning the tired concept of “scores to an imaginary film” in favor of something more cerebral yet no less moving. – Justin Vellucci 

17. Perila – How Much Time It Is Between You and Me? [Smalltown Supersound]

Perila - How Much Time It Is Between You and Me

The experimental sonic moments of How Much Time It Is Between You and Me?, the debut full-length album from artist Aleksandra Zakharenko under the name Perila, are ephemeral ones. They linger more or less before they melt, evaporate, or otherwise reverberate away, each sound giving way to the next in the electrifying construction of a dynamic atmosphere. Central to her product is Perila’s process, and as the album unfolds, that’s what she offers, taking us down paths as she builds them.

How Much Time It Is Between You and Me? is a waking dream in strange and constant motion. Perila creates uncanny worlds crackling with both elemental force and human ingenuity. Nothing here is wholly straightforward or capable of being pinned down; every composition takes shapes open to interpretation. Aleksandra Zakharenko’s experience in Russian experimental music circles and her current location in Berlin’s cutting-edge electronic scene make for a sublime and unfettered combination of sounds and styles. She dabbles in the eerie, the pastoral, the electronic, and even the new age, taking her listeners one by one to unexpected places that never hold still long enough to be fully comprehensible.

Perila is a project that makes magic in surprising ways even in its structural simplicity, and How Much Time is a glowing debut worth complete and dedicated listening. – Parker Desautell

16. Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux [Sacred Bones]

Blanck Mass

In Ferneaux is the product of collected field recordings spanning ten years, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one. Sounds of nature and street life enhance rather than dominate the mix, keeping the result firmly planted in the “music” end of electronic music. Bone-rattling crunch has been swapped for sparkling synthesizers, numbing washes of white noise, rising euphoric motifs, and many field recordings.

In Ferneaux is 41 minutes long and divided into two tracks, titled “Phase I” and “Phase II”. The music comes and goes in shifts, forsaking any obvious dominant theme for each side. In six minutes, “Phase I” moves from muted introduction to glittering analog synths, to walls of power chords that only keyboards can make, to the original muted figure that started the whole thing. Most electronic musicians would save their deathly-quiet passages for a place near the end of the track, sending a clear signal to the listener that things are about to wrap up. Not Power. In Ferneaux is evidence that even if one guy has conceivably “done it all”, there’s still plenty more to do. – John Garratt