10. Aalok Bala – Sacred Mirror [Independent]
In the sprawling rainforest of electronica that opens up the album, Aalok Bala (short for Balachandran) finds something definitively human: connection. The LA-based Chilean artist takes on many roles throughout her second EP — the congregant chanting from their pew, la bruja casting a hex to dreamland, the star-gazer pining for moonlit romance. But on “body of light”, her voice becomes both a machete cutting through the sonic thicket and a caress of intimate memories. “Like a sea grows with water,” she sings amidst the simulated noise of cicadas and wind chimes. “No need to explain.”
These contradictions lie at the heart of Sacred Mirror. On “sueño”, the closest Bala gets to rehashing her 2018 debut album, Rebirth (namely, the instrumentation of “Planets”), dreams (the English translation) are not a powered-off state of rest, but one of sitar psychedelia and heightened consciousness. The myth of the separation between people and nature falls apart, the two entities consummated into one with whispering sensuality: “Quiero ser como agua”; “I want to be like water.” — Austin Nguyen
9. Whipped Cream – Who Is Whipped Cream? [Big Beat]
Whipped Cream, otherwise known as Caroline Cecil, hails from the west coast of Canada. The Vancouver-based Cecil spent her youth carving out a career in figure skating, which was brought to an abrupt end due to an accident on the ice at the age of 18. It brought her figure skating career to a tragic close, but she soon found a new purpose in applying the intense concentration of her professional sports training into learning how to produce music. Now a sought-after DJ, her debut album reveals the exciting ways she’s poised to innovate electronic dance music, even in this era of shuttered clubs and social distancing.
There’s inspiring defiance here, one that offers the listener courage and strength for the dark times in which we’re living, while simultaneously impelling our bodies to move, dance, keep going. Cecil is not only a superbly talented musician but one with an exquisite sense of the zeitgeist. The album is a perfect tonic to all the bottled-up rage and pent-up energy many of us are feeling this year while reminding our bodies of the dancefloors to which we will one day return. — Rhea Rollmann
8. RUI HO – Lov3 & L1ght [Planet Mu]
RUI HO works with a soundscape so electronic that the deliberate nature of its crafting makes it hyper human. Her self-styled, bionic voice a perfect addition to the futuristic scene. There is something almost divine about how she wields total control over her sonic realm, from digital drums (the hi-hats on “Fire Walk With Me” are as earthy as it gets) to synthesized melodies and beyond. Even in its most frenzied moments, the slickness of
Lov3 & L1ght‘s production makes it feel serene. Heavenly sonic colors flow freely in RUI HO’s artistic sanctuary, and the view from the audience is one of sheer euphoria. — Adriane Pontecorvo
7. Holy Fuck – Deleter [Last Gang]
On their fifth album, Deleter, Holy Fuck have worked out how to articulate themselves in their native “Holy Fuck tongue”. With many of the tracks beginning as improvised jams during shows, it feels like they’ve finally managed to capture what is so thrilling about the band’s live show. It is also their most fully realized and cohesive album to date with an intentional ebb and flow to the LP with few reminders of the chaotic dance jam band that emerged with 2005’s self-titled debut.
The album opens with the pulsing, arpeggiated synth loop of “Luxe”. Featuring Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor (who recorded his vocals in Jack White’s Third Man Records), it’s an energizing, bassy house track with Taylor’s vocals bouncing and echoing in space as he croons the line, “I’d like to scrap all of this / Start all over again.” With each layer, the track grows increasingly kinetic as springy synth chords and warped electronic samples smoothly lead to a pounding club-ready beat. — Paul Carr
6. Ane Brun – After the Great Storm [Balloon Ranger]
In a season full of shockingly good releases, Ane Brun’s eighth album of original music is a slow-burning delight, full of melodies that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. For 47 minutes, she holds her aching heart up to the sun, begging for warmth and some semblance of order to all the chaos that surrounds her, yet she is defiantly tethered to hope. These bruised, elegant songs cut to the core of what it means to be uniquely human. With the arrival and subsequent onslaught of COVID-19, death has quickly moved into the foreground of our global thoughts, and Brun’s latest collection is a reminder that life has an expiration date, and every ticking second is a gift. — Ryan Lathan