The Best Electronic Albums of 2023
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The 25 Best Electronic Albums of 2023

This year’s best electronic albums span the widest range of styles of any genre, ranging from melodic electro and warm house to the experimental outer reaches.

17. Baaba Maal – Being (Marathon Artists)

Never one to shy away from innovation, superstar Baaba Maal braids together driving beats, sublime Fulani folk, and electropop energy on his new album, Being, a fresh release from a consummate professional pushing the musical envelope. Often cited as a paradigm shifter in the worldbeat realm, Maal is irreducible to any genre in Being. He is equally a writer, producer, and performer, facilitating conversations between pasts, presents, futures, and many places. Ultimately, Being is about returning home and the inevitable change to any sense of place. Baaba Maal’s musical homecoming here is not myopic or static but embraces motion through space, time, and sound. – Adriane Pontecorvo

16. Orbital – Optical Delusion (London Records)

Orbital‘s Optical Delusion begins with a track named “Rina Ringa”, a steadily pulsating techno number that features the Mediaeval Baebes singing the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie”. Most American children grew up learning the third line as “ashes, ashes” before rounding it out with “we all fall down”, but the standard British version turns the third line into either “a tissue, a tissue” or “A-tishoo! A-tishoo!” In other words, chanting out a sneezing fit.

Orbital subtitled “Ringa Ringa” as “The Old Pandemic Folk Song”. When Paul Hortnoll, one half of the brotherly team that is Orbital, first heard this recording of the Mediaeval Baebes singing the nursery rhyme, he felt it was a perfect musical folkloric update to the age of COVID-19. A 21st-century plague isn’t the only thread woven through Optical Delusion, an album which, by its very title, reminds us time and again that humans always trip themselves up by perceiving only what they want to perceive. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on social media to see how pervasive this Optical Delusion truly is. – John Garratt

15. Forest Swords – Bolted (Ninja Tune)

Multitalented Liverpudlian artist Matthew Barnes’ electronic releases under the name Forest Swords tend to be fairly spread out, with only three full-length albums since 2013. The general consensus, though, is that they’re always worth the wait, and 2023’s Bolted certainly bears that out. It’s craggy, ominous, and dystopian: an experimental maelstrom with a doomy, dubby center of gravity. Industrial beats form a sturdy backbone for fuzzy chaos and melodic clanging, all contributing to an intense subterranean ambience—fitting, as it was recorded in an old factory.

Barnes mixes solid beats and ephemeral samples (a few previously unreleased words from Neneh Cherry make the single “Butterfly Effect” a masterclass in brutalist pathos) into a complex of howls and tunnels, and he dwells in that space, expanding and exploring it rather than simply moving through and out of it. To listen to Bolted is to be surrounded by both emptiness and deep feeling, a vulnerability both crushing and driving, the perfect set of atmospheric conditions for true catharsis. Release is not necessarily relief in the Forest Swords oeuvre, but it is unquestionably fulfilling. So is Bolted, gleaming with both technical precision and pathos and easy to relish from the thick ostinati of “Munitions” to the baleful gallop of “Line Gone Cold”. – Adriane Pontecorvo

14. James Blake – Playing Robots Into Heaven (Polydor / Republic)

Over a decade since that groundbreaking self-titled debut, James Blake returns to the sounds that made him a household name. While Blake’s sound has not undergone many radical transformations, he has undoubtedly been inspired and shaped by changes in popular music and his relationship to it. The result is an album that looks back and forward, blending production styles from house, dubstep, and hip-hop and shot through with Blake’s trademark croon. Most of the music is an exciting and often brilliantly experimental selection of future-facing electronic music, while the end is more lethargic.

“Tell Me” and “Big Hammer” are Playing Robots Into Heaven‘s real standouts, demonstrating Blake’s development and range as a producer. “Tell Me” is perhaps the most danceable, most explosively ravey song Blake has ever put out, its blistering drums and laser synths better suited to big rooms than headphones. “Big Hammer” remixes the ideas of his early releases for Hemlock and R&S Records, blending trap and electronic music with what sounds like a dancehall vocal sample, gradually pitched up and down to devastating effect. – Alex Brent

13. Yaeji – With a Hammer (XL)

Yaeji’s star has been on the rise for years, but this year’s With a Hammer, her full-length debut, is her brightest and most multifaceted moment yet. She remains the queen of clever, catchy electropop on bouncy singles “For Granted” and “Done (Let’s Get It)”, both of which bolster brilliant hooks with bold synths. Scaffolding the earworms—which are abundant, even beyond the singles—is Yaeji’s tremendous range as a producer.

Geometric beats cut through blissful dreamscapes like a sort of sonic papel picado: colorful, delicate, and carefully adorned with moments of negative space that make every track all the more intriguing. Add to that the depth of thought on display in the lyrics themselves (“I like flipping the pages / And feeling the physical weight of how much time has / Passed me by,” she sings on “Passed Me By”), and it becomes nourishing: these bops are good for the heart, the mind, and the soul. It’s a true feat how much sonic and emotional substance Yaeji packs into every moment of With a Hammer, and as satisfying an album as it is, such high levels of overall quality also leave us wanting more: the mark of true pop music genius. – Adriane Pontecorvo

12. Massimo Pupillo – Our Forgotten Ancestors (Glacial Movements)

When he is pouring forth another recorded work to add to the 80-plus albums in his discography, Massimo Pupillo seems to live his life across the world’s stages in a ceaseless round of solo shows and collaborations from Damo Suzuki to Mike PattonThurston Moore to Thighpaulsandra. Likely best known for his work with the Italian instrumental group Zu, he has also worked with choreographers, dance groups, opera stars, and composers; built a sound installation with photographic artist Roger Ballen; arranged an album of the music of Moondog; and will soon release a record with Malcolm McDowell too.

On Our Forgotten Ancestors, Pupillo merges his expansive talents with the focused vision of Alessandro Tedeschi’s label, Glacial Movements. The record label seeks to summon sonic visions of the Arctic and Antarctic environments to develop and preserve an archive of aural impressions of the Earth’s remote poles while drawing attention to the significant threats they face. The LP moves in appropriately ambient domains without ever lapsing into background sound stasis. – Nick Soulsby

11. Jlin – Perspective (Planet Mu)

Jlin has recently collaborated with both the Chicago ensemble Third Coast Percussion and dance companies led by the famous choreographers Kyle Abraham and Wayne McGregor, which has greatly informed the musical direction that Perspective takes. By composing for both percussive instruments and dance performances, Jlin has honed in on what she calls a “more organic” approach to percussion for “a more tactile, grounded sound”. This signals only a subtle shift in her style, which largely holds the course of being maximalist in sound while remaining minimalist in form. In other words, wholly enigmatic.

An artist like Jlin doesn’t need to lean on the concept of change to draw attention to herself. She’s so far ahead of the electronic music curve that she could put her percussive experiments off for another decade and still blow us away with the ineffable nature of her music. Synthetic or acoustic percussion, Perspective is another release demonstrating that Jlin is a genre unto herself. – John Garratt

10. Mukqs – Stonewasher (Hausu Mountain)

On Stonewasher, Mukqs seems to have set out to make something abstract like noise music or free jazz, but instead of showing up with broken horns and circuit-bent synths, Mukqs arrived with a box of pop songs, DJ dance party bangers, and, of course, a few new age records. Mukqs shatters, cuts up, and re-arranges these once harmonious sounds into something that resembles more naturalistic. It’s as if the listener is running through traffic, and every car that whizzes by is playing a different pop beat or vocal sample.

The mammoth opening track “A Length of Hair” is the perfect example. Haunted voices and swirling science fiction noises spiral into what feels like a storm. A lull calls to mind a piano meandering that might be found on a new-age record you’d find at a yoga studio. It’s music that might call to mind the electronic nostalgia journey man Oneohtrix Point Never, but Mukqs goes further into places his releases, especially his more recent releases, seem fearful to go. Oneothrix seems to stare in the pool of this mode of sound and wonder while Mukqs dives in head first. 

Stonewasher is one of the best electronic albums of 2023 and indisputably proves that the Hausu Mountain label is where the action is happening right now. This album invites you to walk into its storm, dance in its chaotic rain, and ultimately sleep as its thunder rumblings give way to a transformed, glitching sunrise. – Seth Troyer