5. Jónsi – Shiver [KRUNK]
It’s been ten years since Jónsi released a solo album. His 2010 debut,
Go!, pointed the way as the experimental pioneer charted a course for a new sound. Go! has a much more optimistic and sunny disposition than the Sigur Rós back catalogue, however, his deviation from the band’s characteristic sound was slender. Now on Shiver, Jónsi has enlisted the equally experimental mind of A. G. Cook as the album’s producer and a co-writer of many of the album’s tracks.
A. G. Cook is the founder of music label PC Music and it would be an understatement to label the label as merely ‘experimental’. PC Music is experimental and then some. The strongest changes to Jónsi’s sound and highest PC Music influences are heard on the fourth track, “Wildeye”. A. G. Cook and his kitchen sink, more-is-more philosophy is in full effect throughout. The starkest and seemingly ‘un-Jónsi’ element is the use of mixed media, hocketed drum loops. A hocket is a medieval musical technique in which a melodic or rhythmic line is completed by several interviewing parts, each part, in isolation would be sparse, but tangled together the parts make one comprehensible piece of music. — B. Sassons
4. Austra – HiRUDiN [Domino]
Canada’s Austra returned in 2020 with a bit of gorgeous Baroque synthpop in HiRUDiN. The album leads off with Bach-esque opening melody of “Anywayz” and its ethereal vocals before exploding into a sparkling, shimmering chorus full of clinking synths and Katie Stelmanis’ sublimely beautiful multi-tracked vocals. It’s quite literally one of the most stunning electropop songs that this writer has heard, and I was around for first-wave synthpop from the likes of OMD, Yaz, and others. It would be hard to top that opening, but the rest of HiRUDiN absolutely compliments the beginning. Gentle arpeggiated strings pluck away on “All I Wanted” as the synths slowly build around Stelmanis’ haunting soprano. The brilliance of HiRUDiN is in how naturally pop and classical inclinations are blending into a form of art-electropop. — Sarah Zupko
3. Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club [Heavenly Recordings]
Working Men’s Club sport a funky form of electropop drawing on influences from Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem to New Order and Krautrock. Most of the tunes on their critically-acclaimed self-titled debut album are up-tempo, funk-fried, synth-drenched dancefests with deadpan vocals and a surging forward feeling of propulsion. It’s so easy to get lost in your head and body when you just give in to this music. Tracks like “Cook a Coffee” inject an indie rock edge with hard-charging guitars and hazy, fuzzy vocals, and create a great sense of variety across the album, lest any one sound carry on for too long. Working Men’s Club have offered a stellar debut that marks the entry of an important electropop artist on the magnitude of a Hot Chip or Django Django. — Sarah Zupko
2. Georgia – Seeking Thrills [Domino]
Inclusivity, love, unity, and, most importantly, having a bloody good time. They’re the things that lure us back to the dancefloor time and time again. At its all-embracing, life-defining peak, the clubbing experience should be a euphoric, coming together of like-minded souls under dazzling strobe lights. On her second album, British artist Georgia has managed to bottle that feeling as she joyously celebrates the dancefloor and all who inhabit it.
Musically on Seeking Thrills, Georgia distills her various influences, pulling in synthpop, disco, Chicago House, and 1980s Detroit techno with sprinklings of UK garage, dancehall, and even post-punk. It’s a heady, energetic fusion of sounds with Georgia taking things back to basics as she constructs sounds from analogue synths and simple drum machine beats. The whole thing is designed to take you back to the comforting, sticky floors of the dancefloor, where the only thing that matters is you and the music. — Paul Carr
1. Erasure – The Neon [Mute]
Erasure to the rescue once more. Stuck in lockdown, barricaded in our homes, fearful of contact with strangers, every expedition to the grocery or drug store an exercise in fear and caution, mask politics emerging as the touchstone for a world already gone to hell in a handbasket in so many ways.
Cue Erasure’s 2020 album: The Neon. Music may not by itself cure all these ills, but the virtue of superb electropop is that it helps make them seem a bit less insurmountable. When have Erasure not been around to help us through the dark times? With hundreds of songs and 18 studio albums spanning a 35-year career, Erasure are like a sort of fairy godmother of electronic pop, always emerging during the dark moments of our lives to brighten things up with cheery beats and hopeful energy. “We’ll come around and find our way through darkness, guided by the stars,” sings Andy Bell. Yes, we will, thanks to Erasure — those most sparkling stars of all. — Rhea Rollmann