best-electronic-music-of-2014

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.

10 – 6

Artist: Tipper

Album: Forward Escape

Label: self-released

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Tipper
Forward Escape

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. rating_circle_full-9 Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Vessel

Album: Punish, Honey

Label: Tri Angle

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Vessel
Punish, Honey

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. rating_circle_full-9 Benjamin Aspray

 

Artist: Fatima Al Qadiri

Album: Asiatisch

Label: Hyperdub

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Fatima Al Qadiri
Asiatisch

Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch is shameless, cheap-sounding, and kind of brilliant. It purports to travel through an “imagined China” that’s been entirely supplanted by representations. Specifically Western representations: like her Desert Strike, which she based on the Gulf War-inspired Mega Drive game she played as a child a year after living through the real thing, Asiatisch is cut from the cloth of low-res orientalism. Assuming “postmodern” is a dirty word, skeptics might say enlisting crudely simulated gongs, xiaos, and erhus for gaudy conceptual synth-pop merely makes Al Qadiri complicit in what she’s critiquing, if not just insufferable. But as soon as post-punk chanteuse Helen Fung’s haunting vocals get underway on “Shangzhai” — the skin-crawling, mesmerizing Mandarin-language cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that leads the album — it’s clear that Al Qadiri is up to something more specific than either critique or pastiche, something far weirder, but also, in its beguiling, simulacral way, poignant. rating_circle_full-9 Benjamin Aspray

 

Artist: Pink Skull

Album: Huitlacoche

Label: My Favorite Robot

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Pink Skull
Huitlacoche

Pink Skull are a difficult act to nail down. Their debut album, humorously titled Zeppelin III, was a mixed bag of experimental electronic beats chalk full of leftfield and art-rock flavor, with the group subsequently ballooning into a five-piece live band for two full-lengths on Rvng Intl. that tapped more of an LCD Soundsystem vein. Huitlacoche was a whole different story. Pared down to the founding duo of Julian Grefe and Justin Geller, along with prolific Schematic producer Joe Lentini, their fourth album sounds like something Luke Vibert would make for Border Community. The vocals, rock instrumentation, and ADD-esque forays into glitchy abstraction that schizo’d up their early work were gone, with Huitlacoche instead focusing purely on analog house laced with acid and absurdity. The name of the album itself, huitlacoche is a Mexican delicacy made from corn fungus, just to give you a hint at the kind of fun these guys are having, but the sound of this record was irrefutable proof of how seriously they treat their craft. The textured precision of the alien soundscapes produced here left everything else they’ve done in the dust, as well as most of their contemporaries. The whole Huitlacoche album sounds fresh and vibrant listen after listen, as if they were twiddling knobs right inside your headphones. Few dance-oriented records have been able to achieve that kind of live-off-the-floor feel, but Pink Skull made it sound easy here. rating_circle_full-9 Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Luke Abbott

Album: Wysing Forest

Label: Border Community

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Luke Abbott
Wysing Forest

It’s a basic plot point for many classic horror films, but there’s something mystical in the woods. Before Wysing Forest, much of Luke Abbott’s recorded output had been in the lighter, warmer side of the woozy, circuit bent progressive house sound that Border Community tends to go for, but taking a residency at the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire opened up a whole new line of thinking for him. Adding particular influence from jazz and minimalism to his established Kosmische leanings, Wysing Forest primarily consists of live recordings, many of which were originally intended as sketches. It’s pure modular synth geekery from start to finish, taking the form of slow-burning, pastoral jams that, despite their free-wheeling nature and almost complete lack of computer editing, coalesce into a singular artistic statement. It feels purposefully structured, despite its highly improvised creation. You can even hear a little cough at the 12-minute mark of the album’s most epic track, “Amphis”, which betrays its live recording, while the core of said track is reprised for the album’s ambient outro, which gives the whole record an obvious symmetry. As challenging as it is coherent, this was a clear step forward for an already brilliant producer. rating_circle_full-9 Alan Ranta

5 – 1

Artist: Andy Stott

Album: Faith in Strangers

Label: Modern Love

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Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers

Andy Stott’s world is one of abandonment and decay, of dust-covered keepsakes, derelict atriums, and distant freight trains. Accordingly, his palette as a producer draws from reliably gloomy quarters: ambient dub and minimal techno, but also industrial and even, occasionally, opera. Faith in Strangers is the most vivid expression of this vision yet. Ghostly mezzo-sopranos resound on trap snares and subterranean bass, while blown-out synths and ambiguous field recordings echo through empty space. Only on the title track, an immaculate throwback to late ’90s downtempo, do major chords dare enter the mix. Otherwise, the reigning mood is uncanny dread, no more so than on the breathtaking “Violence”, wherein oblique melodic lines, warped vocals, and an intermittent rhythm track comprise one of the most terrifying — and entrancing — songs of any genre in quite a while. rating_circle_full-10Benjamin Aspray

 

Artist: Todd Terje

Album: It’s Album Time

Label: Olsen

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Todd Terje
It’s Album Time

In a year where electronic artists took to darker, colder, more experimental sounds, It’s Album Time is a relative comfort, a neo-disco beacon brimming with goofy lounge music influences next to powerful modern house and world music sounds. Norwegian producer Todd Terje curated a varied set for his debut album, but more important is how the album actually comes together. It’s a rare first record with the sound of someone with experience behind the wheel that still avoids loftiness and oversaturation, and the sense of fun on display on It’s Album Time is unmatched both in its electronic contemporaries and in all of this year’s crop of best albums. Todd Terje succeeds in picking out every piece of color from French lounge music, Latin rhythms, and unusual instrumentation, giving It’s Album Time one of the most appealingly offbeat sounds of the year. rating_circle_full-10 Colin Fitzgerald

 

Artist: The Bud

Album: Angels & Devils

Label: Ninja Tune

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The Bug
Angels & Devils

Angels & Devils has all the marks of a quality collaborative record: the music is boldly realized, the talents of the guests aren’t hidden, and somehow there’s a remarkable cohesion. Producers are more obsessed than ever with getting big-name singers and rappers on their albums, even to a fault, running the risk of being upstaged by more visible talent. But with Angels & Devils, the Bug, AKA Kevin Martin, picks the right voices to work with rather than the biggest or loudest. Grouper’s Liz Harris, for instance, may seem like a strange choice to head up the Bug’s deep dub sound, but her subdued vocals lend “Void” a delicate, sensitive edge. Then there’s the ferocity of Death Grips, who apply their harsh attack to “Fuck a Bitch”, bringing out the darkest tones of the Bug’s sonics. Most importantly, the guests serve the producer’s music rather than the other way around, making for an album with a large swath of artistic textures painted over the main artist’s singular sound. rating_circle_full-10 Colin Fitzgerald

 

Artist: Ben Frost

Album: Aurora

Label: Mute

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Ben Frost
Aurora

With a home base of Reykjavik, an album called Aurora, and the Christian name of a snowman, it’s no wonder the Australian-born Ben Frost makes some of the wintriest music around. Dense, mammoth, and vividly dichromatic, the compositions on Aurora play like primal screams imprisoned in ice. Frostbitten drones lurch into searing melodic catharsis and back again across 40 bracing minutes. Frost was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo when he wrote much of the album, and flashes of violent heat crack its brittle textures. But right as melting is imminent, another cold front of pounding percussion and feedback freezes it thicker. Yet if this volatile beauty clears dancefloors, it also makes the album strangely accessible: like Secret Chiefs 3, Swans, and Liturgy — whose members contribute — Frost is a rare avant-gardist whose punishing sounds are at no expense of his knack for universals. rating_circle_full-10 Benjamin Aspray

 

Artist: Aphex Twin

Album: Syro

Label: Warp

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Aphex Twin
Syro

Richard D. James has traditionally made it a point to stay far away from the conventional framework of his electronic contemporaries when operating as Aphex Twin, to recognize territory that’s comfortable both for himself and his audience and then turn his back on it completely. Of course, the state of electronic music has evolved considerably since his last album release back in 2001 with Drukqs, and though James has been less visible in those 13 years, he’s grown with it. Syro isn’t the game-changer that Selected Ambient Works 85-92 once was only because James’ sensibilities as an experimental artist have now been baked into the fabric of the genre that once considered him an anomaly and an outsider. If Syro is Aphex Twin’s most accessible album, it’s because we’ve gotten too used to his idiosyncrasies.

But that’s not a bad thing. Syro became the quintessential electronic record of 2014 not by existing outside the mainstream identity, as has been typical of Aphex Twin in the past, but instead by embodying the qualities of the genre in the modern era, qualities that James himself help institute in the first place. By combining elements of electro, house, techno, ambient — everything but the kitchen sink — James maintains his unique sound and confirms that he hasn’t lost his individualist touch. Aphex Twin has always been about biting, fractured, intelligent electronic music; the only difference between 2001 and 2014 is that now that’s the default. rating_circle_full-10 Colin Fitzgerald

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


8. Fatima Al Qadiri – Asiatisch (Hyperdub)

Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch is shameless, cheap-sounding, and kind of brilliant. It purports to travel through an “imagined China” that’s been entirely supplanted by representations. Specifically Western representations: like her Desert Strike, which she based on the Gulf War-inspired Mega Drive game she played as a child a year after living through the real thing, Asiatisch is cut from the cloth of low-res orientalism. Assuming “postmodern” is a dirty word, skeptics might say enlisting crudely simulated gongs, xiaos, and erhus for gaudy conceptual synth-pop merely makes Al Qadiri complicit in what she’s critiquing, if not just insufferable. But as soon as post-punk chanteuse Helen Fung’s haunting vocals get underway on “Shangzhai” — the skin-crawling, mesmerizing Mandarin-language cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that leads the album — it’s clear that Al Qadiri is up to something more specific than either critique or pastiche, something far weirder, but also, in its beguiling, simulacral way, poignant. – Benjamin Aspray

7. Pink Skull – Huitlacoche (My Favorite Robot)

Pink Skull are a difficult act to nail down. Their debut album, humorously titled Zeppelin III, was a mixed bag of experimental electronic beats chalk full of leftfield and art-rock flavor, with the group subsequently ballooning into a five-piece live band for two full-lengths on Rvng Intl. that tapped more of an LCD Soundsystem vein. Huitlacoche was a whole different story. Pared down to the founding duo of Julian Grefe and Justin Geller, along with prolific Schematic producer Joe Lentini, their fourth album sounds like something Luke Vibert would make for Border Community. The vocals, rock instrumentation, and ADD-esque forays into glitchy abstraction that schizo’d up their early work were gone, with Huitlacoche instead focusing purely on analog house laced with acid and absurdity. The name of the album itself, huitlacoche is a Mexican delicacy made from corn fungus, just to give you a hint at the kind of fun these guys are having, but the sound of this record was irrefutable proof of how seriously they treat their craft. The textured precision of the alien soundscapes produced here left everything else they’ve done in the dust, as well as most of their contemporaries. The whole Huitlacoche album sounds fresh and vibrant listen after listen, as if they were twiddling knobs right inside your headphones. Few dance-oriented records have been able to achieve that kind of live-off-the-floor feel, but Pink Skull made it sound easy here. – Alan Ranta

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6. Luke Abbott – Wysing Forest (Border Community)

It’s a basic plot point for many classic horror films, but there’s something mystical in the woods. Before Wysing Forest, much of Luke Abbott’s recorded output had been in the lighter, warmer side of the woozy, circuit bent progressive house sound that Border Community tends to go for, but taking a residency at the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire opened up a whole new line of thinking for him. Adding particular influence from jazz and minimalism to his established Kosmische leanings, Wysing Forest primarily consists of live recordings, many of which were originally intended as sketches. It’s pure modular synth geekery from start to finish, taking the form of slow-burning, pastoral jams that, despite their free-wheeling nature and almost complete lack of computer editing, coalesce into a singular artistic statement. It feels purposefully structured, despite its highly improvised creation. You can even hear a little cough at the 12-minute mark of the album’s most epic track, “Amphis”, which betrays its live recording, while the core of said track is reprised for the album’s ambient outro, which gives the whole record an obvious symmetry. As challenging as it is coherent, this was a clear step forward for an already brilliant producer. – Alan Ranta

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5. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)

Andy Stott’s world is one of abandonment and decay, of dust-covered keepsakes, derelict atriums, and distant freight trains. Accordingly, his palette as a producer draws from reliably gloomy quarters: ambient dub and minimal techno, but also industrial and even, occasionally, opera. Faith in Strangers is the most vivid expression of this vision yet. Ghostly mezzo-sopranos resound on trap snares and subterranean bass, while blown-out synths and ambiguous field recordings echo through empty space. Only on the title track, an immaculate throwback to late ’90s downtempo, do major chords dare enter the mix. Otherwise, the reigning mood is uncanny dread, no more so than on the breathtaking “Violence”, wherein oblique melodic lines, warped vocals, and an intermittent rhythm track comprise one of the most terrifying — and entrancing — songs of any genre in quite a while. – Benjamin Aspray

4. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (Olsen)

In a year when electronic artists took to darker, colder, more experimental sounds, It’s Album Time is a relative comfort, a neo-disco beacon brimming with goofy lounge music influences next to powerful modern house and world music sounds. Norwegian producer Todd Terje curated a varied set for his debut album, but more important is how the album actually comes together. It’s a rare first record with the sound of someone with experience behind the wheel that still avoids loftiness and oversaturation, and the sense of fun on display on It’s Album Time is unmatched both in its electronic contemporaries and in all of this year’s crop of best albums. Todd Terje succeeds in picking out every piece of color from French lounge music, Latin rhythms, and unusual instrumentation, giving It’s Album Time one of the most appealingly offbeat sounds of the year. – Colin Fitzgerald

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3. The Bug – Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)

Angels & Devils has all the marks of a quality collaborative record: the music is boldly realized, the talents of the guests aren’t hidden, and somehow there’s a remarkable cohesion. Producers are more obsessed than ever with getting big-name singers and rappers on their albums, even to a fault, running the risk of being upstaged by more visible talent. But with Angels & Devils, the Bug, AKA Kevin Martin, picks the right voices to work with rather than the biggest or loudest. Grouper’s Liz Harris, for instance, may seem like a strange choice to head up the Bug’s deep dub sound, but her subdued vocals lend “Void” a delicate, sensitive edge. Then there’s the ferocity of Death Grips, who apply their harsh attack to “Fuck a Bitch”, bringing out the darkest tones of the Bug’s sonics. Most importantly, the guests serve the producer’s music rather than the other way around, making for an album with a large swath of artistic textures painted over the main artist’s singular sound. – Colin Fitzgerald

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2. Ben Frost – Aurora (Mute)

With a home base of Reykjavik, an album called Aurora, and the Christian name of a snowman, it’s no wonder the Australian-born Ben Frost makes some of the wintriest music around. Dense, mammoth, and vividly dichromatic, the compositions on Aurora play like primal screams imprisoned in ice. Frostbitten drones lurch into searing melodic catharsis and back again across 40 bracing minutes. Frost was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo when he wrote much of the album, and flashes of violent heat crack its brittle textures. But right as melting is imminent, another cold front of pounding percussion and feedback freezes it thicker. Yet if this volatile beauty clears dancefloors, it also makes the album strangely accessible: like Secret Chiefs 3, Swans, and Liturgy — whose members contribute — Frost is a rare avant-gardist whose punishing sounds are at no expense of his knack for universals. – Benjamin Aspray

[YDQU741518331401]

1. Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)

Richard D. James has traditionally made it a point to stay far away from the conventional framework of his electronic contemporaries when operating as Aphex Twin, to recognize territory that’s comfortable both for himself and his audience and then turn his back on it completely. Of course, the state of electronic music has evolved considerably since his last album release back in 2001 with Drukqs, and though James has been less visible in those 13 years, he’s grown with it. Syro isn’t the game-changer that Selected Ambient Works 85-92 once was only because James’ sensibilities as an experimental artist have now been baked into the fabric of the genre that once considered him an anomaly and an outsider. If Syro is Aphex Twin’s most accessible album, it’s because we’ve gotten too used to his idiosyncrasies.But that’s not a bad thing. Syro became the quintessential electronic record of 2014 not by existing outside the mainstream identity, as has been typical of Aphex Twin in the past, but instead by embodying the qualities of the genre in the modern era, qualities that James himself help institute in the first place. By combining elements of electro, house, techno, ambient — everything but the kitchen sink — James maintains his unique sound and confirms that he hasn’t lost his individualist touch. Aphex Twin has always been about biting, fractured, intelligent electronic music; the only difference between 2001 and 2014 is that now that’s the default. – Colin Fitzgerald

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