The Best Electronic Music of 2013
Above all, 2013 was a year when electronic music's cream of the crop did what they do best and left no one wanting for more.
15. Front Line Assembly - Echogenetic (Metropolis)
The only thing consistent about Front Line Assembly's records is the quality of their production. As a veteran behind the digital audio workstation, Bill Leeb and his various collaborators have created soundscapes ranging from stomping techno bangers like "Plasticity" to the cinematic sci-fi soundscapes of Hard Wired to the rich, beautiful lullabies of his side project, Delerium. More impressive still, he released the soundtrack in 2012 for a video game called "AirMech", the popularity of which will in all likelihood outlast the game. It was the first time we heard his experiments in borrowing from the palette of recent trends in electronic music, including dubstep pacing and wobbling liquid bass lines, which show that the band is as cognizant of their developing scene and as relevant now as they ever were.
Echogenetic seems to bring together the experience of all his previous records into an extremely rich album. "Killing Grounds" is a nod to the dance floorfriendly industrial floor fillers of the '90s, while "Ghosts" draws on beautiful melodies reminiscent of the emotional robots of Tactical Neural Implant's "Remorse". Even "Blood", which begins otherworldly and alienating in its distant nature, unleashes a melodic chorus which is touching and reflective. The press for the record also noted the fact that it was an intentional attempt to create all the aggression of previous records, while retaining a puritanical approach to industrial electronica. There are no sampled metal guitars to be found. What results is as pleasing to the ears as it is the heart. - Darryl G. Wright
14. Matmos - The Marriage of True Minds (Thrill Jockey)
M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel (Ph.D.) are weirdos. In their quest to push the boundaries of the album under the name of Matmos, they have done everything from exclusively using the sounds of surgery to using no mics at all. They're so unusual that it can be difficult to separate this Baltimore duo's concepts from their creations. Where do their experiments begin and end, when the whole world seems to be their lab? True to form, their first album since 2008, The Marriage of True Minds, is based on parapsychological experiments, whereby Drew Daniel attempted to telepathically transmit the album's concept to a sensory deprived test subject, and whatever they mused and hummed became the aural and lyrical basis of the record. Hence, the melodies tend to be fragmented and the lyrics absurd, but it works. Schmidt and Daniel are foremost experts on scavenging disparate elements, and forging them into something staggeringly original and often humorous. Matmos never lets its music become burdened by its concept. Heady though its creation may be, The Marriage of True Minds is easy to get into, its far-out sound collages ("Ross Transcript"), all the cutlery, sirens, and nature sounds, tethered by beat-driven moments ("Teen Paranormal Romance", "Very Large Green Triangles"). With this record, Matmos shows precisely how to use its experimental inclinations to enhance musical creativity, where so much contemporary experimental music succeeds as an experiment and fails as music. - Alan Ranta
13. Morris Cowan - Six Degrees (Wigflex)
Having rolled with Nottingham's Wigflex crew since 2006, Morris Cowan (aka Adam Taylor) is no slouch. This year's fantastic release, Six Degrees, confirms this point in fine style. Having released his debut album Circa on Traum's minimal leaning Zaubernuss sub-label -- a vivid exploration of tech-house and techno -- Taylor returned home to Wigflex to release his "prog rock made on computers" master class, Six Degrees.
A concept album exploring the idea of six degrees of separation, Taylor's music dips and dives, starts and stops, and pushes and pulls the listener in different directions, with hints of rubbery acid, gloopy analogue leads, and pads hinting at the producer's extremely keen and natural ear for harmony. It's an album that deftly juggles and juxtaposes organic tones with the synthetic.
Emotionally speaking, there is a lot to take in. The mixes are dense but focused, allowing for repeated listens, with new nuggets of gold revealing themselves, depending on the mood you are in at the time. It is this ability to render a blank canvas for each listen that sets Cowan apart from the rest of the electronica brigade. He allows you to feel whatever you want: nothing is too implicit, nothing is forced. His sounds can either jar you to the core or soothe a sore heart. Six Degrees is an enthralling piece of work that is extremely well executed from start to finish. - Al Kennedy
12. Skinny Puppy - Weapon (Metropolis)
War, terror, gun violence, and mass shootings have all dominated the media and the public awareness, particularly in the United States and Canada throughout 2013. It seems a fitting time for a band that once prided itself on unsettling, challenging, and eerie industrial music to arise from its slumber and reveal a new album that would exploit the very pronounced social fears that are dominating the public consciousness. Weapon, however, turns out to be so much more than just that. Tracks like "wornin'" actually reveal an unexpected emotional side, a welcome maturity that had never been revealed by the band before. "saLvo" and "paragUn" double down on the electro-pop aesthetic, making this one of the most accessible industrial albums Skinny Puppy has ever done. The latter features an unusually musical chorus which manages to be aggressive and groovy at the same time.
With a catalogue as consistent as Skinny Puppy's, this album could have been just more of the same. It was entirely possible for them to succeed in just reproducing more of what they've always done well. Instead, they have taken us by surprise and pulled off a refreshing update to their sound without compromising its original appeal. For an album which deals with themes like gun violence and crime, Weapon is surprisingly full of life. - Darryl G. Wright
11. µ-Ziq - Chewed Corners (Planet Mu)
Mike Paradinas' music under his µ-Ziq alias has always had a clean, sharp, almost surgical quality to it. During µ-Ziq's late '90s golden era, Paradinas crafted records that were at turns as brightly euphoric as a child's just-unwrapped Christmas toy, and as coldly melancholic as an underpopulated space station. Since that time, Paradinas has explored other musical avenues and emotional color palettes, but rarely with the distinctiveness and glee of records like Lunatic Harness and Royal Astronomy. Chewed Corners returns to the unique, seamless, hyper-modern sound that µ-Ziq perfected in the late '90s, while also updating and expanding on that sound. Chewed Corners makes you feel like you are lost in a Stanley Kubrick movie, but without the violence, alienation, and despair. Powerful, primary colors leap out at the listener, drawing sharp lines and building vast edifices in her mind. Although Chewed Corners is not a casual listen, with the entire record, including the "rediffusion" mix at the end, clocking in at close to two hours, this record never feels boring or off point. Chewed Corners truly sounds like the new µ-Ziq record, and nothing else out there can give that to you. - Benjamin Hedge Olson