The RA staff select the best full-lengths of the year.
We're just going to put this out there: 2013 was the best year for electronic music albums in recent memory. It started slowly, but by spring there was almost a tidal wave of fantastic releases to wrap our heads around. Big hitters made long-awaited returns. New artists broke the rules. And across the board we were reminded that a need to consume music in the full-length format is still very much a thing.
Drone Logic capped a stellar rise for London's Daniel Avery. His ascent was built on the back of a few key things (a fabric residency and mix, and a string of successful singles), but his full-length debut was the final piece in the puzzle. For those that had been following him, the twisted machine funk here didn't come with too many surprises, but the end result was excellent.
"Other kids can have crazy parties in basements in NeukÃ¶lln, and it's still fun from time to time to be there, but maybe we've grown out of that a little." So said Sascha Ring, AKA Apparat, explaining the more accessible sound of Moderat's second album, II. Though you could hardly call it a straight pop record, it was laced with melancholic vocals and accessible hooks. In a year where many sounds were dark and nihilistic, these guys bucked the trend.
Lots of monster-truck-sized electronic music has come out over the last few years. Immunity has moments that sound fit for stadiums, but the album could also burrow deep into your chest. As a producer, Jon Hopkins works with his share of big-budget acts, and yes, Immunity is full of studio pizazz. But his emotional directness and sheer enthusiasm never sounded plugged in or painted on, making for one of the year's truly invigorating listens.
A lot changed for James Blake since his debut album came out two years ago: chiefly, he fell in love. The effects of this are laid bare across Overgrown, as the Londoner cemented his claim as electronic music's most gifted singer-songwriter. Letting his tender baritone do most of the legwork, it felt as if Blake had literally and figuratively found his voice. Come October, the wider music scene concurred, awarding Overgrown the Mercury Prize.
On Random Access Memories, everyone's favourite French robots reinvented themselves with the warmth of live instruments. This rich and textured disco album came with guest spots from Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Pharell, meaning the duo's comeback had "huge" written all over it--even if you excluded the Daft Punk factor. Its unprecedented marketing campaign made it ubiquitous, but it's a testament to the record's strength that it holds up after seven months of exhaustive scrutiny.
Back in the days of "Purple Drank" you might not have seen this one coming. Sure, Axel Boman has always been an inspired house producer, but his debut album showed he's much more than that. Gentle, uplifting and occasionally bittersweet, Family Vacation brought out the artist in this Swedish goofball.
Do you startle easily? Are you afraid of the dark? If either gets a "yes," we hope you weren't alone the first time you heard Excavation, whose opening minute flings listeners into a mercilessly unsettling soundscape. Bobby Krlic's meditation on the afterlife is perfectly pitch-black but colourfully executed, with musical touchstones as diverse (and terrifying) as John Carpenter and Sunn 0))) forming a strangely satisfying and weirdly life-affirming whole.
Last year Laurel Halo released a critically acclaimed album. In 2013 she did it again, but the two records couldn't have sounded more different. On Chance Of Rain she dispensed with the vocals and blurry sonics that marked Quarantine, taking a more direct approach that was informed by her classical training. It's a move that resulted in one of the year's bestâ€”and most originalâ€”techno albums.
Searching for answers we'll never find but don't grow tired looking for: that's the enduring appeal of Scotland's most mysterious electronic duo. Tomorrow's Harvest, their latest album and arguably their best since the 1998 classic Music Has The Right To Children, is as intriguing as music got this year. Few records develop as strong a sense of narrativeâ€”while doing as brilliant a job of sending us off-course and into the fog.
We don't get many live albums in electronic music, but if anyone could pull one off it's Nils Frahm. On Spaces the Berlin artist got the multi-faceted showcase he deserved, dipping into modern classical, bluesy improv and beautiful synth pieces, sometimes all in the same 20-minute suite. Built from various live performances over two years, Spaces works remarkably well as a full-length. In fact, it's easily his best.
Kyle Hall says The Boat Party's cover was meant to remind people where his music comes from. It worked: seeing those dreary brownstones on the sleeve, it's hard to imagine his farting kick drums, scraping hi-hats and sloppy R&B samples coming from anywhere else but Detroit. Lo-fi house was very much a thing in 2013, and no one did it better than Hall does here.
In 2013 Paul Woolford emerged as a talisman of the jungle revival. His take on the sounds of UK rave's golden age has been one of the most refreshing things to hit soundsystems in the past 18 months (and you know you're onto a good thing when copycat producers emerge). Soul Music was a two-disc collection of original tunes and remixes that tapped into Woolford's "false memories" of UK pirate radio. The results were exhilarating.
Each of Miles Whittaker's projects sinks its teeth into a different style: Demdike Stare does dark ambient, MLZ dub techno, Millie flirted with bass music. Faint Hearted is an exception--the Modern Love staple's first solo album moves freely between different shades of haunting electronica. From the ghosts of hardcore on "Lebensform" to the krauty arpeggios of "Loran Dreams," it's a hypnotic tour of techno's dusty underside.
Fresh interest in grime was one of 2013's most exciting developments, and at the end of the year Logos came along and completely demolished what was left of the rulebook. Or maybe dismantled is a better word: on Cold Mission the Londoner took apart the genre's elements and retooled them into something spacious, an album of percussive shadowboxing where silence spoke louder than drums and bass (although those were pretty loud, too).
Double Cup is footwork's high water mark--if, that is, you can even call it footwork. DJ Rashad's debut album revamped the Chicago dance phenomenon, throwing in smooth textures, lurching rhythms and frequent nods to other styles (there was even a bit of acid). The result is among the most innovative bass music we heard this year--a minimum requirement for Hyperdub, it seems.
Jordan Sauer crafted one of the best dub techno records in recent memory by foregrounding melody. It was the most effective way for the Canadian artist to evoke the scenes of incredible natural beauty that inspired Pacifica. There was little change in mood or tone across its nine tracks, but each one left you muttering, "Wow, this is really fucking pretty."
The most impressive thing about Pull My Hair Back is how it came out of nowhere, fully formed. The record had a way of hitting you over the head with its subtlety, whether it was Lanza's sultry Sade-isms or the neat hooks hidden in the synth-heavy production, like the distinctive sample on "Kathy Lee" or the excitable stuttering in "Keep Moving." But whatever the reason, one thing's for sure: we couldn't get these songs out of our heads.
He could have done one. Even two would have been generous. But "Vaporware," Bee Mask's 2012 synthesizer suite, wasn't your average track, and Donato Dozzy is not your average remixer. Where many albums strive for a single narrative arc, Plays Bee Mask tells the same story seven ways, with the original reincarnated in pummeling space-scapes, rainy laments and techno tangles. Poetic, psychedelic and endlessly inventive, it's a remix package as only Dozzy could do it.
It's funny how so many of 2013's "outsiders" fit snuggly into trends. DJ Koze, on the other hand, is an oddball unto himself. Everything on his second album, Amygdala, from its psychedelic cover art to its tinniest incidental sounds, could only have come from the mind of Koze. This wasn't weirdness for the sake of it, though: the album dripped with enough hooks, soul and warmth to put most pop producers to shame.
The Inheritors, James Holden's second album, was recorded in single takes, and written on an analogue modular system and hand-coded computer programs. Holden cited ceilidh music, pentatonic folk scales and ancient pagan rituals as reference points. He discussed the record as a "utopia for the non-competitive idea," in which the inventive spirit of the '60s and '70s had lived on. It was named after the second novel of Nobel Prize winning author William Golding, and was Holden's first substantial release in seven years. Everything above could point to an esoteric, overwrought mess. What we got instead was the most innovative and exciting record of the year.
In the spirit of the experimental German outfits of '60s and '70s, the album was a rejection of something. Holden has always had an uneasy relationship with club music and its strictures, and so The Inheritors presented an alternative: "What if we released ourselves from the metronomic shackles of DJ-friendly music?" he seemed to say. In Holden's version of things, synthesisers don't spew out '80s presets--they writhe with untamed energy, prickling the ears with alien timbres. His drums create moods, not signposted dance moves. Track arrangements are fluid and unpredictable, unchained from intros and outros. His use of distortion and feedback could be seen as challenging, but for every scream there was a resplendent melody--"Renata," "Delabole," Circle Of Fifths"--waiting in the wings.
The Inheritors wasn't an alternative dance music blueprint, though. It was just an exceptional example of an artist placing creativity above all else.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.