Call for Music Writers: Let your voice be heard by PopMatters’ quality readership.
Call for Music Writers: Let your voice be heard by PopMatters’ quality readership.
APPLY HERE APPLY HERE
APPLY HERE APPLY HERE
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.

10. Stigma – Too Long [Pessimist Productions]

Stigma - Too Long

On Too Long, Kristian Jabs’ first album under the moniker of Stigma, the natural world is nowhere to be heard. This LP has more in common with Jabs’ pre-Boreal Massif work as Pessimist when his music had more of an industrial drum ‘n’ bass flavor. Too Long exists in a collapsing space between warehouse ambience and fractured techno. It’s anything but polished.

The drums on the opener, “Madureira”, have a raw, abraded sound, as if they’re from a live recording. Even when the groove becomes more fully formed and a series of siren-like synths chime in, the song remains beautifully understated and skeletal in structure. This is a touchstone of Too Long: Jab resists the urge to pile on bells and whistles even when the music gets heavier and heavier. His commitment to minimalism is part of his genius.

This is music for when the end of the world has already happened, and there are only shards of humanity left. It’s a seven-track vortex of sinister filter sweeps, bleary-eyed synths, and detonating rhythms. As the Jabs’ music gets darker and weirder, it just gets better and better.Parker Desautell


9. Andy Stott – Never the Right Time [Modern Love]

Andy Stott - Never the Right Time

On the Manchester-based producer’s latest LP, Never the Right Time, vocalist Alison Skidmore’s presence is more felt than on any of Andy Stott’s previous records. Throughout the album, her cooing soprano offsets crackling dub, liminal bass, and slivers of interference. Her voice gives warmth and depth to songs like “Don’t Know How”, with its clicks, cuts, and glitches, or the title track, where the kick drums sound like they’re on the verge of explosion. Frequently, her vocals are so remote they sound suspended in space and time — almost disembodied or happening somewhere above and beyond the music itself.

As for Stott, he continues to go harder, faster, and grimmer. Never the Right Time takes the damaged beats and washed-out dub of 2019’s It Should Be Us to even darker places. This is an LP of chopped-and-screwed techno and bass-heavy ballast. Take the deconstructed club of “Answers”, where Stott hits us with manic, off-kilter kick drums and a throbbing sub-bass groove. This isn’t techno—it’s the sound of tectonic plates shifting. It’s like a Demdike Stare track gone hopelessly awry and in a good way. A similar thing happens on “Repetitive Strain”, where quick bursts of manic percussion give way to scintillating arpeggios. The drums have a delayed, stuttering rhythm on both of these tracks, twisting the song structures into knots and disorienting all sense of time. – Parker Desautell


8. Anz – All Hours [Ninja Tune]

Anz - All Hours

It’s hard not to get excited about Anz. The Manchester-based DJ and producer is that rare talent who can take anything—hardcore, dubstep, breakbeat, jungle—and meld it beautifully with her unique pop sensibilities. This is true of her newest record, All Hours, her first release via Ninja Tune. Anz pays homage to all kinds of UK club sounds in a way that feels very accessible but never dumbed down. It’s straightforward but never too streamlined for its own good.

“Decisions” slides right into “You Could Be (featuring George Riley)”, the EP’s most straightforward moment. It’s catchy as hell, but what really makes it memorable is the way that all the elements seem to soar and swoop rather than move in a straight line—bouncy synth lines, distant swells of electric guitar, and George Riley’s light, breathy soprano. The song has “Call Me Maybe” vibes all over it. When Riley sings, “I know my head’s a little crazy / We just met, but I’m feeling you, baby”, it’s almost impossible not to think of the Carly Rae Jepsen hit song. Anz has gone pop but in the best possible way. All Hours is one of the most exciting debuts of the year from one of the most exciting new voices in club music.Parker Desautell


7. Yu Su – Yellow River Blue [bié Records / Music From Memory]

Yu Su - Yellow River Blue

Yellow River Blue is the studio maestro Yu Su’s most versatile statement yet. There are shards of Chinese classical, new wave, downtempo and trip-hop, and it’s all seamlessly interwoven. On the opener “Xiu”, Yu Su pairs an elegant pipa riff (the pipa is one of China’s foremost classical instruments) with minimal kick drums and fluttery, wordless vocals. The track unites the classical and the modular beautifully and probably could’ve fit right in on Roll with the Punches. The pipa returns on “Melaleuca”, where a mid-tempo house groove is overlaid with Chinese classical and a hint of retro synthpop. It’s the warmest piece on the record, full of shimmering pads and breezy sound design.

One of the great things about Yellow River Blue is its structure—Yu Su always manages to offset the harsher moments with room to breathe. The track “Dusty”, which comes right after “Klein”, is one such moment. The song begins in a hazy swirl of gentle shakers, watery piano, and blissed-out ambience. About halfway through, a beat drops, but it’s slow and meandering, an elegant little come down from all the hammering and battering of “Klein”. It’s like the moment at a dance party where the fatigue has set in—the music is still going, and people are still dancing, but the night is no longer young, and everyone is moving in slow motion.Parker Desautell


6. BICEP – ISLES [Ninja Tune]

BICEP – ISLES

Bicep’s instantly recognizable sound is a product of their eclectic obsession. House, garage, ambient, downtempo, psychedelic, and everything in between is intermingled in the capable hands of Bicep. Particularly distinguishable and central to the “Bicep sound”, is the playful augmentation of beats. Steeped in syncopation and polyrhythmic/tupleted measures, expect Bicep’s complex beats to affect you physically and cranially. Bicep frequently use pitched synths in place of bass and snare drums, effectively using melody for rhythmic accompaniment. Pitch-bending cymbals slide and drift away, dancing in-and-out between the melodic loops. In layered dynamics, each part of the kit’s volume functions independently. Hi-hat crescendos will contrast and cascade around the diminuendos of other individual percussive elements.

Isles is born out of the conflicting doublethink experienced by the now emigrated Northern-Irish duo. The urge to explore in a mold-breaking wanderlust met with equally strong feelings of belonging and local identity. Bicep’s sophomore release is much more grown-up and conflicted, however, this is not to the detriment of their characteristic eclectic abandon. – B. Sassons


FROM THE POPMATTERS ARCHIVES
PopMatters