15. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar [Domino]
Mystic Familiar, Dan Deacon’s latest record, fits right in with the composer’s catalog of shimmering, welcoming electropop. The product of meditation and Brian Eno’s creative-inspired card set, the album follows the titular character, an inner voice that resides in everyone. The lack of distinct beats allows the mind to slip into the album’s endless chords, which are held as fermatas as long as Deacon needs them to be.
From the beginning of
“Become a Mountain”, Mystic Familiar draws the listener in using two classic musical tropes that are quite foreign for Deacon: his natural voice (a bit Boy Least Likely To by way of Future Islands) and a piano. Using the instrument as a metronome, he constructs this mountain by layering the track with additional piano melodies and vocal effects. The slow crescendo of the whole note that comprises the entirety “Hypnagogic” conjures the view from the peak. As it drones into “Sat By a Tree”, a discernible beat finally arrives, which gallops forward like a Mura Masa song. — Mick Jacobs
14. Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot [x2 Records / Kobalt]
“The sense of so much missing when the world gets in the way,” laments the ever-observant Neil Tennant, whose reporting skills clearly never left him. Forty years in music and celebrity failed to dull the edge to his lyrics or, ironically, add much pizazz to his trademark drawl. His and Chris Lowe’s 14th album as the Pet Shop Boys, Hotspot, finds the famed duo tackling the modern condition once again with equal parts passion and cheek.
To cope with gloom, Hotspot turns toward memories and daydreams. As people grow more in-tune with the world’s general chaos, the more it clashes with the ideals of order and contentment, every fairytale and Hollywood film depicts. Alongside fellow electropop auteur Olly Alexander, they pine for a “Dreamland” where they might find the existence they desire for themselves. These dreams lie either in the recesses of their minds or their distant past, such as the titular figure in “Will o the Wisp”. — Mick Jacobs
13. Stats – Powys 1999 [Memphis Industries]
Powys 1999, Stats‘ second album, and the second in two years, features ten songs that always feel like they’re gliding on a dance-rock groove, even when they actually aren’t. Ed Seed, the band’s main creative force, made a name for himself as a touring guitarist with acts like Dua Lipa and La Roux, but Stats is where he goes to make his own music. And that music is catchy and clever and always glossy.
The first single, “Naturalise Me”, bumps along on a simple mid-tempo dance beat, accented by a little glitch synth noise. A basic bassline also pulses through the song’s opening, while Seed sings in a breathy upper register. After about 20 seconds, the track starts to add a collection of synth sounds that open up the music into a pulsing dance groove. There’s a buzzing low end, a swirling, arpeggiated high end, and a tambourine, each contributing to the song’s feel. Seed’s vocals rise into a falsetto climax to the verses and stay in that range through the chorus. It’s a fun track with strong hooks, and that is consistent throughout the album. — Chris Conaton
12. Marie Davidson and L’Œil Nu – Renegade Breakdown [Ninja Tune]
Marie Davidson’s newest album is a delightful and eclectic release that superbly fulfills her promise to “tell stories and sing”. It’s credited to Marie Davidson and L’Œil Nu, the latter referring to her husband Pierre Guerineau (with whom she also releases music as the electronic duo Essaie Pas), and Asaël R. Robitaille.
Musically, the album is profoundly varied in comparison with its predecessors. Tracks like “Renegade Breakdown”, “Worst Comes to Worst”, and “C’est parce que j’m’en fous” retain Davidson’s trademark electronic style. The former sounds like a natural progression from her previous album, an irony surely not lost on listeners who discern Davidson’s characteristically sarcastic commentary in the lyrics.
These tracks are catchy, but their intelligence transcends the superficiality of beat and rhythm. Renegade Breakdown may not appeal to superficial listeners seeking a quick fix of genre or easy background music. However, it will surprise and delight the true music aficionado who gives it their full attention and who will emerge from the experience with a sense of deep satisfaction. — Rhea Rollman
11. Cubicolor – Hardly a Day, Hardly a Night [Anjunadeep]
Hardly a Day, Hardly a Night sees Cubicolor continuing to explore the textured, gently evolving sonic terrain of Brainsugar in more intimate detail. Although shaped by loss, uncertainty, and self-doubt, the songs on Cubicolor’s second album never linger in the same emotional space for long. Throughout, the band uses the music to process negative feelings before channeling them into something more positive and uplifting. Musically, their meticulously crafted soundscapes morph from plaintive electronic pieces into uplifting dance tracks in the space of a single song. Hardly a Day, Hardly a Night is a richly drawn, triumphant record and testament to the fact that sometimes you have to go with your gut and start again. — Paul Carr