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The Best Electronic Music of 2014

The most compelling electronic music of 2014 could be found in thoughtful experimentation and dancefloor-ready fun. But the ones who led the way tended to be pioneers who made their reputations doing just that.

The most compelling electronic music of 2014 could be found in thoughtful experimentation and dancefloor-ready fun. But the ones who led the way tended to be pioneers who made their reputations doing just that.

15. Lone - Reality Testing (R&S)

With its sampled hip-hop beats and fluttery polysynths, Reality Testing is the embodiment of accessible alternative electronic music. Each song takes dance music conventions and slightly twists them, from the stuttering samples on "Restless City" to the funky staccato groove of "Meeker Warm Energy" and the hiccupping house beat on "Begin to Begin". The music never loses traction or goes too far off the rails, and Lone manages a perfect push-pull between his left-field restlessness and conventional song structures. The producer also employs an immaculate balance between chillout, instrumental hip-hop and house influences, a balance that turns Reality Testing into quintessential feel-good party music and one of the most satisfying, laid-back dance records of the year. - Colin Fitzgerald

14. FaltyDL - In the Wild (Ninja Tune)

Last year's Hardcourage showed Andrew Lustman at his most polished and streamlined, and was an easy sell as his masterwork; this year's In the Wild shows him at his most decadent, but is every bit as essential. As FaltyDL, Lustman shares rank with a generation of producers who came of age in the post-genre haze of IDM: artists like Chris Clark, Benn Jordan, and Luke Vibert, whose affiliation with any one style of electronic music was always less important than carving a sui generis niche among several. Lustman is distinguished by his balance of inventiveness and charisma, so the fact that his deceptively scattershot safari through an overgrowth of minimal house, glitch, found sound, and hip-hop sustains its flow even during the most amelodic digressions Lustman has ever made, marks In the Wild as one of the more striking testaments to a single artist's talents in 2014. - Benjamin Aspray

13. Teebs - E S T A R A (Brainfeeder)

E S T A R A is a difficult album to immediately appreciate. Teebs channels lush grooves through the entire record, but the listener is forced to sift through layers of dense, heady sonics to get to them: sizzling, popping, ringing, scratching, and clicking. The producer obscures the melodies as much as possible under beds of impenetrable static, instead relying on subtle shifts in texture to bridge together song passages. "Holiday" is a highlight, with Australian producer Jonti providing ethereal vocals over the rich, swimming samples that bury the beat, while the hypnotic "Mondaze" gets mileage out of repetition and saturated vocal samples. The infectious rhythms usually find their way through the hyper-compressed chaos, but the biggest accomplishment of the record is making that kind of cacophony lyrical and elegant. E S T A R A is all about Teebs' lovingly crafted soundscapes, at once wildly psychedelic and undeniably beautiful, made so evocative that, assuming you can cut through the noise, you could crawl inside and surround yourself with them. - Colin Fitzgerald

12. Kiasmos - Kiasmos (Erased Tapes)

It's an overwhelming task to reduce the eponymous debut of Kiasmos to words. When you read them back to yourself, no combination seems to do it justice. The album was made by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and Faroe Islands producer Janus Rasmussen. Both artists were distinguished in their own rights, given Arnalds' BAFTA win and Rasmussen's work in Bloodgroup, but their collaboration on this project achieved something miraculous. In broad strokes, the pair come from disparate styles, Arnalds being known for acoustic-based piano experimentalism and Janus playing keys and singing in his synth-heavy electro-pop band. But after rubbing shoulders for years and bonding over their appreciation for minimal electronic music, they finally put some time aside at Arnalds' studio in Reykjavík to explore the space between them. As the eight progressive tracks on their self-titled album showed, that space was ripe for development. The album delivered a steady onslaught of deep, immersive beats and sublime piano repetitions, held together by little details like the flicked lighter hi-hat on "Thrown" and the transition to record static between "Held" and "Looped" that cement a natural feel. It's as much elating and invigorating as it is thoughtful and moving, a work of devastating beauty. - Alan Ranta

11. Dntel - Human Voice (Stone's Throw/Leaving)

Jimmy Tamborello's latest record as Dntel, Human Voice, isn't too far removed from his usual work, though with it he takes on an abstract concept surrounding the sound, texture, and timbre of the human voice, how it can be altered, and how it can be emulated through the use of electronics. It's a theme that grounds Tamborello's expansive, sprawling music to an extent, reeling in pristine electronic noises and plucky rhythms to a central point. On Human Voice, Tamborello uses his modern sound to tap into electronic history, embracing the linear rhythms of Kraftwerk on "Bike Path", for instance, while also showing off a mastery of conventional song structure when he needs to, as on the gradually intensifying "Fringes of Focus (Instrumental)". Few could argue against the idea that Jimmy Tamborello is an incredibly singular producer, and while Human Voice may not be the best example of his talent, it's expressive and unique enough to warrant recognition. - Colin Fitzgerald

10. Tipper - Forward Escape (self-releasedI)

While occasionally lumped in with a scene, Dave Tipper has always done his own thing, and he does it all himself. As usual, Forward Escape was written, produced, mixed, and mastered by Tipper himself. Stylistically, its unrelenting euphoric downtempo is very much in line with his last album, 2010's Broken Soul Jamboree, but it was nevertheless surprising given all the block-rocking bass devastation he delivered with the four EPs he released in 2011 and 2012, which saw his funky nu-breaks sound from 2008's Wobble Factor progress into fiercer territory, even hitting drum and bass. Perhaps doctors recommended he tone it down a shade after his open-heart surgery in 2013, but whatever the reason, the crystal clarity of his speaker shredding work on Forward Escape was a reminder that he's clearly one of the world's elite sound designers. The loping bass lines, bubbling granular synthesis, churning field recording processing all coalesced in something too intensely psychedelic for background music, but too contemplative for dance floors. The fractal cover art of Android Jones captured the listening experience perfectly. Hearing this in headphones could very well cause the molecular density of your brain to disperse, forcing astral projection into overdrive whether you're ready for it or not. - Alan Ranta

9. Vessel - Punish, Honey (Tri-Angle)

You'd be forgiven for thinking Vessel's Punish, Honey was played by a band. It's an album of unruly feedback and uneven sustains, blown-out amps and out-of-tune horns, all of it battered and bruised by what sounds like a drum kit made from garbage tins. But the whole of Punish, Honey was in fact assembled on computers by one Sebastian Gainsborough, and while only closer "DPM" explicitly enlists a synthesized drum loop, the tracks that remain wind organic textures around harsh, hypnotic grooves. In this way Gainsborough shares an ethos with Matthew Herbert, only whereas the latter Brit spins musique concréte into lush big-band pop, the former makes industrial techno with the temerity to have a pulse. And although the Dickinson quote and intertwined bodies on the cover echo the tedious S&M nihilism much of the genre trades in, on standout track "Red Sex" especially, Punish, Honey is mischievous and eccentrically tuneful. - Benjamin Aspray

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