- 20. Lunar feat. Blackdown
Instead of trying to take grime into the future, Wen looked to its formative period, back when it was garage's problem child. Signals updated grime with a stark, minimalist dread that felt like a product of the UK's fraught political climate and the state of the world itself in 2014. But it was Wen's choice to chop and dice the gruff barks of grime MCs—rather than hackneyed R&B samples—that really sealed the deal, elevating his beats from shadowy to straight-up menacing.
- 19. Biggest Joke Of All
Eglo occupies a unique place in our record collections: it's a label with roots in electronic music that is increasingly focussed beyond electronic music. Fatima's debut album, which was produced by Eglo co-founder Floating Points among others, was an absurdly infectious blend of soul, R&B and hip-hop that gently caressed club kids' tired ears. Like so much of Eglo's music, it's an album that we kept coming back to.
- 18. At Ease
Into A Better Future
Into A Better Future was a standout record in a standout year for Giegling. More colourful than his 2009 debut full-length, it showed Edward wearing his influences on his sleeve. The finished product was detailed, psychedelic and deeply immersive, inspired by punk, new wave and new age records from the '70s and '80s. Like a lot of that music, this record was danceable, but often not in an obvious way. And by focussing attention away from the beat, Edward reminded us just how pretty house music can be.
- 17. Itzehoe
- Max Graef
Rivers Of The Red Planet
Rivers Of The Red Planet isn't a house album. Nor is it a hip-hop album. Instead, it inhabits a delicious middle ground between the two. It's an album where bone-dry percussion mingles with warm chords and smoky, exotic samples. And it marked out its creator—the 21-year-old Berlin artist Max Graef—as one of 2014's most exciting newcomers.
- 16. Hoax Eye
- Call Super
After establishing himself with a run of driving techno 12-inches, JR Seaton pulled back for Suzi Ecto, giving his sounds a little breathing room. It was a closer look at a hardware-obsessed producer who's defined by the details in his tracks—the clattering sounds on "Rosso Dew," the autumnal wash of "Raindance," the sputtering momentum of "Hoax Eye." At times Suzi Ecto was like a notebook full of doodles: revealing, personal and charmingly modest.
- FKA twigs
The steep rise of FKA twigs was almost unavoidable in 2014, and listening to LP1 it's easy to see why. Tahliah Barnett's hauntingly fragile voice, futuristic melodies and huge swells of bass drafted a new template for pop music, earning her comparisons to Kate Bush, Björk and Aaliyah. This, coupled with a devastatingly strong aesthetic in both her music videos and live shows, was enough to propel her fame from music mag to gossip rag.
- 14. Thermal Capacity
- Answer Code Request
"Versatile techno" has been the only description on Answer Code Request's Facebook page for the past few years. It's hard to think of a more fitting way to describe Code, his debut album. Booming bass, broken beats and atmospherics came together with an astonishingly wide variety of results, ranging from the afterhours bliss of "By The Bay" to the murky drive of "Blue Russian." Where many recent Ostgut Ton artists used the album format to carefully hone their sound, Answer Code Request went all out.
- 13. Lush
- Dean Blunt
Dean Blunt has always been an enigmatic figure, but with Black Metal he opened up. Sort of. Pairing his sharp, devastating lyrics with increasingly epic compositions, Black Metal showed us the tender singer-songwriter and the impenetrable artist in equal measure. It was a towering work and also his most approachable. But for someone who was once considered an aloof jokester, maybe the most striking thing about Black Metal was its honesty.
- 12. Inspector Norse
- Todd Terje
It's Album Time
It's Album Time propelled Todd Terje into the spotlight like never before. The Norwegian carefully balanced a few previously released hits ("Inspector Norse," "Strandbar") with new material, including a collaboration with Bryan Ferry. The result was a celebration of the qualities we've come to associate with Todd Terje across ten years of impeccable 12-inches—glistening, star-gazing productions delivered with a sense of humour.
- 11. Megatrap (Mix Mix)
- Head High
The music journalist Tobias Rapp once said that techno is half engineering, which might explain the German knack for it. In supporting this theory, Rene Pawlowitz would be Exhibit A. Megatrap, a bundle of nine no-nonsense DJ tracks, showed the club weapon boiled down to a science. The skipping kicks, the chunky breakbeats, the soaring old-school pads—it's all flawlessly balanced for optimal impact.
Moodymann was a 27-track orgy of samples whose topics included, among other things, fried chicken with hot sauce, its author's dick size and, repeatedly, Detroit's murder rate. Funkadelic made a guest appearance, and Lana Del Ray's "Born To Die" got a cheeky edit. It is, in other words, an LP that could only have come from the studio of Kenny Dixon Jr., who, 20 years since his early classics, remains one of house music's most creatively unhinged artists.
- 9. It's A Choice
- Joey Anderson
Is there a more distinctive voice in contemporary house music than Joey Anderson? There are plenty of contenders, but it's difficult to imagine another producer getting as weird as Anderson and making sense on the dance floor. After Forever presented the New Jersey producer's texturally obtuse, compositionally freewheeling aesthetic in all its tripped-out glory, and not once in the hour did the record lose the plot—rather, it was one of 2014's great moments of clarity.
- 8. Untitled D1
- Kassem Mosse
Cut with driving dance tunes, stylistic left turns and analog sound design punching through the murk, Workshop 19 was exactly what you'd expect from Kassem Mosse on the label that's released the lion's share of his best work. It was just one 12-inch longer than usual. The tracks were untitled, the production was immaculate and the compositions took us to surprising places. But taken as a whole, it was a thrilling listen—a front-to-back journey in the hands of a true techno original.
- 7. Radiofreeze
- Francis Harris
Minutes Of Sleep
Scissor & Thread
In a period of three years, Francis Harris lost both his father and his mother, which led him to completely change the way he thought about life. His ongoing personal reinvention might have started when he shed his Adultnapper alias, but it truly matured with Minutes Of Sleep, a masterful album that viewed the process of grieving through the lens of house music. Sometimes tragic and sometimes celebratory, it was a record as weighty as the experiences that birthed it.
- 6. Void feat. Liz Harris
- The Bug
Angels & Devils
Kevin Martin was forced to supress destructive impulses as he was writing Angels & Devils, the much-anticipated follow-up to the seminal London Zoo. As he told us this year, he was disorientated after the success of his last album, and wanted to rip things up and start again; what he did instead was kick his creative fears in the nuts. The album stretched London Zoo's gnarly dancehall template at both ends: its first half was mellow and cloaked in smoke, while the second was stacked with some of the rudest beats Martin has ever written.
- 5. Ratchet
On the scale between club functionality and outright experimentation, TJ Hertz has found himself a sweet spot. His early club tracks like "Cactus" pushed rhythms to breaking point without losing the dance floor, and on Flatland he reached the outer limits of his style while keeping home listeners hooked. Let's be clear, though: Flatland was no compromise. The album was overflowing with warped compositions and mind-bending sound design. But for every "WTF!?" there was an "ahhhh"—a gorgeous pad, a soothing switch in tempo, a surge of real human emotion.
- Aphex Twin
You may have had a different personal favorite this year, but it's hard to argue that Syro wasn't one of 2014's masterpieces of electronic music production. Richard D. James certainly threw an enviable quantity of gear at his creative impulse. But it was his musical mind, not his kit, that made Syro as essential as any of his work. The machines buzzed, squawked and rumbled with the verve of a producer at the height of his powers.
- 3. Stakan
- Gesloten Cirkel
By the time Submit X came out, Gesloten Cirkel had been lurking for years, releasing greasy techno bombs like "Yamagic" and "Twisted Balloon." He always had a style very much his own, but on his debut album he was totally unleashed, dishing out lo-fi synth pop ("Chatters"), chugging darkwave ("Stakan") and even the odd heavy metal guitar lead ("Arrested Development"). But perhaps most important was his command of rhythm: drums rarely sound as destructive as they did on Submit X.
- 2. Blue Sunshine
Psychic 9-5 Club
In 2010, HTRK bassist Sean Stewart committed suicide while the band were recording their second album, Work (work, work). Arriving four years later, Psychic 9-5 Club, Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang's first album as a duo, reflected an emotional state that, while certainly dark, was not without a "healthy dose of inner peace," as Standish put it on "Blue Sunshine." Cryptic lyrics drifted like smoke within shimmering, skeletal beats, creating an album that was sexy, brooding and addictively dramatic.
- 1. No Surrender
Faith In Strangers
"Clap your hands, clap your hands" Andy Stott's vocalist Alison Skidmore sneered over the tense throb of "Violence," the first full cut on Faith In Strangers. The track soon spiralled into near-disorder, its pretty pianos and sizzling drums gnashing at a dirge-like tempo that let each beat cut as deeply as it could. Some dance music album of the year, huh?
Stott was already edging away from the dance floor during his last run of releases in 2012, but Faith In Strangers was the furthest out he'd gone yet. And in shedding the dub techno and house he'd drawn on, in varying degrees, for all of his productions so far, he'd made the most arresting, unnerving and uncommonly beautiful music of his career. Stott pushed himself stylistically, taking in pinches of hardcore, electro, metal, maybe even southern rap. But his now-inimitable aesthetic—dank atmospheres, knobs to 11, sounds distorted to oblivion—made every flourish his own.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.
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RA Poll: Top 50 tracks of 2015
We wrap up the 2015 polls season with the RA staff's tracks of the year.
RA Poll: Top mixes / compilations of 2015
The best mixes and compilations of the year, as selected by the RA staff.
RA Poll: Top 20 labels of 2015
The RA staff continue the polls season with our top labels of 2015.
RA Poll: Top 20 albums of 2015
The RA staff pick the best full-lengths of the year.
RA Poll: Top 40 live acts of 2015
RA's readers pick the top live acts of the year.
Hypnobeat: An 808 odyssey
30 years ago, Peter Weiss's live drum machine project was pushing techno before there was such a thing. Now, with help from Helena Hauff, he's rebooted Hypnobeat for a new generation.
In the next edition of RA and SONOS's film series, we hear how a city's music scene saved one of dance music's favourite DJs.
RA Poll: Top 50 tracks of 2014
This year's polls season comes to a close with the RA staff's 50 favourite tracks of 2014.
RA Poll: Top mixes / compilations of 2014
The RA staff select their favourite compilations, online mixes and official mixes of the year.
RA Poll: Top 20 labels of 2014
The RA staff choose their favourite record labels of the year.
In a recent Critics Roundtable, we argued that albums tend to play an awkward role in dance music. With that in mind, it might seem odd to say that 2014 has been a killer year for electronic LPs. But aside from a few club-friendly titles, most of what you'll find below exists outside the realm of the party, free of what's been called "the tyranny of the kick drum." Some are challenging and complex, others are airy and understated, a few of them are just plain groovy. Together they show the incredible range of sounds possible on the electronic full-length.