Music

The Best Electronic Music of 2015

Electronic music is one of the broadest reaching genres by design, and 2015 showcases that as well as any other year on record.

It's been a year of quiet successes for electronic fans. Unlike previous years when artists like Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, and Flying Lotus so clearly reigned supreme, 2015 was a year which saw independent hitmakers (Jamie xx) and experimental favorites (Arca) run up against underground upstarts (DJ Paypal) and classic acts making modest resurgences (the Orb, Squarepusher, the Chemical Brothers) without any undeniable, year-defining, best of the best records.

Electronic music is one of the broadest reaching genres by design, and 2015 showcases that as well as any other year on record. House and drum 'n' bass continue to press their influence on mainstream pop and hip-hop while up-and-coming regional styles like footwork are starting get due recognition in the press; world music sounds and rhythms also continue to find their way into the grooves of Western electronic while retro styles like downtempo and lounge house celebrate minor revivals. The only thing electronic music lacked in 2015, after all, was an unassailable star.

In the end, that might be for the best. Electronic music is unquestionably moving forward on every conceivable front, and it's always been a genre that welcomed and even celebrated anonymity, individuality, and the power of an underground movement. 2015's lack of an agreed-upon luminary only calls more attention to the genre's breadth, scope, and the dynamism that's been with it since the beginning. That's a powerful way to start off the second half of a decade that has and will no doubt continue to see more widening of horizons than ever before. -- Colin Fitzgerald


20. Jamie xx - In Colour (Young Turks)

In Colour is a lot of things. It's Jamie xx's first proper follow-up to 2011's We're New Here remix album, which reshaped Gil-Scott Heron's album to interesting effects. It's also Jamie Smith's solo debut album and, finally, his first official departure from the xx's sonic palette. Strangely, none of this feels dramatic. In Colouris meant to depict the last six years of the English producer's career. It's a mixture of rave, balearic beats and soul music, making up a nicely cohesive conjuncture. It's, above all, introspective music that could have only been conceived inside the inner workings of a solitary mind. It feels deeply personal, just like the technicolor illusion we've been expecting him to release since that eventful 2009 album, the xx's debut xx. -- Danilo Bortoli


19. Squarepusher - Damogen Furies (Warp)

For electronic fans, Squarepusher albums have become events in and of themselves despite never being so conventional as to reveal the state of the genre at any given point and never being so experimental as to qualify as a subversion of or a reaction to a specific sound. In the case of Damogen Furies, Tom Jenkinson lands squarely in the middle of the two approaches, leveraging searing synthesizer melodies and his signature brash, hyperactive drum patterns to create one of his most aggressive, bitter, and outright confident records -- at least in recent memory. It's also one of his most cohesive and condensed in its madness, like sending a buzzsaw through modern drum 'n' bass and IDM that recalls old sounds as much as it draws from the new. Even as Squarepusher's latter-day output continues to divide fans, Damogen Furies hits some surprising highs for a legacy artist of Jenkinson's stature, and it shows how fearless he still is two decades removed from his high-profile beginnings. -- Colin Fitzgerald


18. Rizzla - Iron Cages (Fade to Mind)

Add Rizzla to the growing list of essential names in Foley Grime to watch. His highly anticipated debut EP arrives on Night Slugs sister label Fade to Mind a good four years into his career. He has not exactly been quiet during his tenure, dropping tons of mixes, downloads, and remixes onto the world of dance music. He soon became known for his massive skills with hybridity and fusion, spawning new genres with each new offering, be they soca-driven industrial hip-hop or trance-guided moombahton club constructions or what have you. He was also part of the queer collective #KUNQ, along with other vanguard artists like False Witness, Battyjack, and blk.adonis" and performed explosive DJ sets at the late, wild graveyard trap sets of GHE20G0TH1K parties. Rhythm may be the principal foreground on these five tracks, and the Carribean-cum-Brooklyn percussive assembly ranks amongst the finest in the Night Slugs/Fade to Mind cannon, but the warped and alien sounds melded along the syncopated curvature of the beats are what give the tracks real vitality. Sirens wail, urban voices breathlessly grunt, stringy synths wobble into the ether, and glass breaks briefly and shifts swiftly back into place. -- Timothy Gabriele


17. DJ Paypal - Sold Out (Brainfeeder)

Sold Out, DJ Paypal's newest joint, is most compelling because of its cheeky flip of footwork's ethos. Paypal's Teklife compatriots make a living pushing out footwork and juke with a stony expression -- to them (and to many others), the style isn't fun and games. It reflects life's sobriety, whether in the form of DJ Spinn's spartan, mechanical breakbeats or the late DJ Rashad's smoother soul-influenced oeuvre. Classically, footwork has taken itself very seriously, something befitting its origins in Chicago dance battles -- music, as dance, as a way of life. DJ Paypal, on the other hand, professes no such pretensions. The notoriously camera-shy producer -- he generally performs with a T-shirt over his head, and has given very few publicly-available interviews -- nevertheless reframes footwork as a more joyful, less sober experience. There's a certain brand of liveliness and merriment on Sold Out which flies in the face of conventional juke and yet it still feels faithful to the style, kind of like a parallel to Todd Terje's disco or Jamie xx's jungle. It's bold and brash, but it still feels like a natural extension of the now-global footwork scene. -- Will Rivitz


16. Hot Sugar - God's Hand (Break World)

Nick Koenig had been on the scene for a few years, his Hot Sugar project appearing with the self-released Muscle Milk EP in 2011 and gaining critical traction with the Ninja Tune-released mini-album Moon Money in 2012, but God's Hand represented his first true full-length, and it was a resoundingly triumphant debut. Utilizing a creative approach similar to that employed by Amon Tobin post-2007, something Koenig calls "associative music", God's Hand is a cerebral, trip-hop-tinged studio creation that absorbs all manner of commonplace sounds and shapes them into vibrant sources of melody and rhythm. Yet, given its quirky foundation, like morphing samples of a man shoveling snow or webcam audio of fans blowing bubbles and crushing cans into timbres akin to pianos, strings, and 808s, the mood throughout has a palpable gravity, its bubbling textures evoking Tipper in psychedelic downtempo mode underscored by wistful emotional resonance. You don't need to know the diegetic origins of the sounds to be in awe of their distinctive visceral effect; Koenig imbued God's Hand with intrinsic childlike wonder. -- Alan Ranta

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