Best of 2017: Electronic Music Part 1

Why does it feel like no one likes electronic music the same way that people like other music? The more I listen to it, the more I realize that it is in the earliest branching of musical styles (so: classical, pop, electronic), and that it is the most artistically relevant of the three, though the least canonically and culturally relevant. It’s the most artistically relevant because of the possible idea space: nothing is out of bounds but little is needed. There also doesn’t need to be a purpose to it, which can result in the most beautiful and free art that you can find.

Keeping the comparison to modern popular music, there’s little to hold on to in terms of concrete ideas, and people seem to only be captivated by ideas. It’s more often an emotional response with little metadata to support an understanding of composition, purpose, or quality. It takes a lot to get into the theoretical, mostly internet-oriented culture that surrounds any of the lists that I can make within the handful of different styles that I’ve come to understand enough to enjoy.  In a way, it’s nearly impossible to really recommend any of this, and in another way, it’s really easy, there are just very specific caveats.

Top 10 Electronic Music EPs of 2017: 

This is an easy list because it’s a catch-all of everything that’s electronic and fits on 12” of vinyl. Lots of good stuff here, and it’s a sampler, so try it all!

10. Kara-Lis Coverdale - Grafts - A suite of three modified piano pieces that’s as pleasant as it is abstract, which in itself is an achievement.

9. Emptyset - Skin - This time with their own homemade instruments, this duo continues their journey into their own sound and production language.

8. Rina Sawayama - RINA - A fun trip through retro-futurist R&B stylings with a good ear for what makes pop music interesting.

7. Lakker - Eris Harmonia - This is a meaty 12” that has exercises in many different things that Lakker are great at, from grinding textures to kinetic beats to pure ambience.

6. Skee Mask - 2012 - This is the slightly more traditional of the two Skee Mask EPs, which further proves that he’s the man you should trust if you want your breakbeats in your techno.

5. Skee Mask - ISS002 - This is the more audacious of the two Skee Mask EPs as it flirts (okay more than flirts) with jungle and has a much higher density of breakbeats than he’s ever used in the past. 

4. Objekt - Objekt #4 - TJ Hertz is the most skilled and creative artist operating in whatever kind of music this is. This is the only 17 minutes he’s made in the last 3 years, so we have to cherish it.

3. Body-San - Pacific Reasons - 3 out of these 4 tracks are similar in nature to the highlights on the Body-San tapes, which is to say, they’re highlights. Definitely required Body-San listening.

2. S Olbricht - Purpleblue - One of the best outsider house producers showing great range with more traditional house and techno tropes than last year’s epic album.

1. Pender Street Steppers - Raining Again - super satisfying downtempo house that operates on good grooves and smart samples. I wish there were more things like this because this is the kind of thing I want to play at any cool party.


Top 5 Techno LPs of 2017

I don’t think any of these are actually techno albums, at least not in the sense that they contain material that could be mixed into live techno sets. But then again, that kind of techno is better on 12” anyways, and better off left in the 90s. There are stylistic similarities that put these albums on a list together, including that they’re all quite austere and contain little melody.

5. Steffi - World of the Waking State - A complex and interesting Ostgut Ton record. Steffi uses electro influence adds many small melodies along the way that keep things feeling human and engrossing.

4. Nicolas Bougaïeff - Principles of Newspeak - An exciting, crunchy walk through sci-fi technoscapes where the song titles get shorter, but the songs remain the same length (until the very end). 

3. DB1 - Zwischenwelt - The best minimal D'N'B album that I've heard. Full of texture, engaging, and uses the maximal version of the genre for rhythmic inspiration to an appropriate extent. The production details demand headphones and attention.

2. Claudio PRC - This is a simple exercise in setting out to make an accessible ambient techno record and succeeding to do so in every way.

1. Second Storey - Lucid Locations - Alec Storey takes complex patterns and makes them into a sensical, albeit overwhelming, whole. There’s a huge amount of precision just enough restraint to make it all work.


Top 5 Post-Industrial Albums of 2017

These are the most intense albums of the year and ones that I will return to when I’m in need of extremely regular catharsis in a listening experience. These all incorporate aspects of techno, industrial, and noise into some really moving art.

5. Phillippe Hallais - An American Hero - Better known as Low Jack, Hallais heads over to Modern Love for his least predictable record yet. There’s a strange push and pull between light and heavy moments on this record and he pushes to make both a relevant part of this release.

4. Perc - Bitter Music - Post-Industrial / Industrial Techno slabs from a master of the form. Each release from Wells is more varied and intense than the previous.

3. Emptyset - Borders - Another necessary Emptyset release. The nature of this record is different from their others thanks to their new electroacoustic techniques. It sounds like it could be performed live in a sense that hasn’t ever been present before.

2. Vargdod - Brutal Disciplin - Opal Tapes releases aren’t too inspiring for me in the last couple years, but this is an extremely notable exception. It could be that Varg is a force that cannot be stopped and he’s actually contained really well within the confines of this brutal tape.

1. Varg - Nordic Flora Series Pt. 3: Gore-tex City - This album wouldn’t be an epic journey without the strange detours that line the way. The reason it’s so successful, though, is because Rönnberg is the world’s foremost purveyor of cold, sci-fi techno.