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-Experimental- Coming Soon
It’s no secret that electronic music is turning into a mainstream phenomenon, but the types of electronic that have been exposed to the masses make up a pretty small portion of what the genre can do. While dubstep and electro-house have elevated to the top of the charts, the quality electronic music in 2011 was found more in downtempo, trip-hop, and in plenty of albums that mixed multiple styles of electronic. After looking back on the many great releases of the past year, these are 10 I feel best represent electronic music in 2011.
There gets to a point listening to Perimeters where you just have to sit back and close your eyes. Aes Dana has crafted a beautiful atmospheric album that tells a story through its varied and ever changing soundscapes. There is a great sense of motion here, as the songs will often have a constant drum beat while other sounds will pop in, create tension, and break it. The long, often cinematic tracks can last longer than ten minutes, and by the end a wide of variety of emotions have been displayed through an equally wide variety of sounds and influences. Elements of trance, ambient, industrial, and other forms of electronic are present, and they are used brilliantly. Aes Dana still has a way to go before catching labelmates Carbon Based Lifeforms, but fans of ambient electronic should take notice. This is a strong album, and one of the best electronic releases of 2011.
Wander / Wonder
“Witch house” in its very nature is a dark genre of music. Anytime drone and darkwave make up the roots, you can be sure there will be a certain level of dark atmosphere. Wander / Wonder is a dark in spots, but it also has moments of light that contrast it. Much like its artwork, this is beautiful music that has been covered with dark atmosphere. Balam Acab perfects the atmospheric qualities of his music, making each side of the contrast blend together at the right times. The beats themselves are also impressive, as they sound like downtempo electronic being played through a filter. It can sometimes get repetitive, which is always an issue when working passively with ambient music, but for the most part the beats build enough to stay engaging. What ultimately prevents Wander / Wonder from living up to its potential is the inconsistent quality of the vocal samples. Many of the voices used are incredibly high-pitched, which sometimes works while other times puts too much emphasis on the vocals. With the incredible job of filtering that Balam Acab has done, the voices just don’t fit too much of the time. Wander / Wonder is still a very good album, however, and certainly a promising debut.
I’ve never liked the term “world music.” It’s too broad and says more about the location than any real aspect of the music. In the case of Beats Antique, however, that term is a necessary descriptor. Elektrafone is an electric album at its core, but it’s been injected with a heavy dose of “world” music. This ranges from Middle Eastern belly dancing to African jazz, and it works brilliantly. There’s not a lot of subtlety to Beats Antique’s music, as the influences are thrown right into the forefront. There are songs with afro-beat drums being played over dustep-like bass, and it helps that part of the music is performed with live instruments while others are sampled. Elektrafone is a lively and chaotic record, and that’s definitely a good thing. Beats Antique know how to play a wide range of music and mix it all together without one part dominating another. The music is heavy at times, melodic at others, and it all comes together to form a spectacular and utterly unique collection of songs.
Blue Sky Black Death
It is not often that an album leaves me speechless on first listen. More than ten listens later, I still can’t wrap my mind around the beauty that is Noir. Every listen brings out and more subtleties, to the point where I doubt there any producers in hip-hop or electronic music who put as many layers or think their music through as well as Blue Sky Black Death. Every sample, every note, and every sound is precisely placed and simply perfect. Stylistically, Noir picks up where Blue Sky Black Death’s last trip-hop album, Late Night Cinema, left off. The music is comprised of hip-hop beats turned into beautiful cinematic soundscapes, taking what DJ Shadow did with Endtroducing… and building upon that foundation like few others have. This the album every hip-hop fan imagined when they first heard what could be done with hip-hop production. Everything is perfectly clean, and the atmosphere of the music is indescribably brilliant. Subtle touches like a quick vocal sample, or the return of a sound previously used on the album, work to great effect to bring the album as a whole to life. This is not just a collection of beats, but a full cinematic piece of music split into scenes. I can’t recommend Noir highly enough. This is as good of an album as I’ve ever heard, and every lover of music deserves to hear it.
Already one of the most extraordinary new producers in electronic music, Cybo has outdone herself with Echoespond. This is an album that could only be made by an artist who truly loves making music, and it’s an absolute treat to listen to beautiful atmospheric electronic music rich with the kind of passion found here. The music combines elements of Aphex Twin-like idm (intelligent dance music), industrial, ambient, and electro. Cybo has done a masterful job of weaving her influences together to create a truly unique and captivating sound, and her gorgeous vocals give the music an extra layer of atmosphere. Echoespond is the type of album that can be recommended to any music lover, even those without prior interest in electronic. It’s just a spectacular album from start to finish, varied and beautiful throughout.
Ghosts of Paraguay
Ghosts of Paraguay sounds a lot like Burial, but that’s far from a bad thing. If there’s one dubstep producer to base your sound off of, it’s hard to pick a better one, as well as one more difficult to duplicate. Obviously Silent Souls doesn’t hold a candle to Burial's work, but that’s not to say that Silent Souls is nothing more than a poor man’s Untrue. The songs here are just as atmospheric, but in a much lighter way. There are some nice vocal samples, and some instrumental beats that are breathtaking. It goes without saying that Ghosts of Paraguay needs to branch out more if he’s going to continue this style, but it’s interesting to hear an upbeat take on ambient dubstep. And no, don’t expect any high frequency wobbles or “filthy” drops. This is dubstep in its more subtle and less popular form, and Silent Souls will appeal more to fans of downtempo electronic than wobble bass.
It’s been proven time and time again that jazz and trip-hop make for a great combination. Long Arm’s debut album is one of the best examples of that in recent memory. The way that everything flows on The Branches is outstanding, as the lively and sample heavy trip-hop is aided by some gorgeous jazz sections. All of it mixes together smoothly, especially when the hip-hop drums, vocal samples, and jazz instruments come together. There are also moments of ambience that make for a nice contrast from the generally active main sections. Long Arm isn’t afraid to mix styles, but again, it all flows. It’s rare that a producer who mixes as many different types of music in a short amount of time does so with as much success as this one. It works because Long Arm keeps the jazzy trip-hop sound throughout, and while not every sound works as well it could have, he always has that to fall back on. Overall The Branches is a very strong debut album, and one of the most recommendable trip-hop/jazz hybrids out there.
Already a favorite among electronic fans, Pogo has made a name for himself by creating beautiful electronic tracks with samples from famous (often Disney) films. It’s remarkable what this man can do with his samples, and Wonderpuff is a more subtle but undeniably impressive example of that. Pogo will use non-musical samples and incorporate it into the main melody. In the past it’s been easy to tell that all of the music is coming from the same source, essentially being remixed, but here the less recognizable sources make it almost impossible to spot without knowledge of how Pogo makes his beats. This may not give listeners the same satisfaction as his famous track “Alice,” but for the most part the music flows a lot better. Towards the end Wonderpuff does start to lose steam, as variety isn’t necessarily Pogo’s strongest attribute, but there’s enough high quality electronic here to earn a strong recommendation. Pogo is one insanely talented producer, and any electronic fan not yet familiar with his skills should start with his Wonderland EP and then give Wonderpuff a listen. As a whole, this may be his strongest work to date.
Stendeck first impressed me with his mixing of ambient and industrial on 2009’s Sonnambula. The way that the heavy industrial sounds clashed with the beautiful ambient soundscapes was brilliantly done, and unlike anything I had heard before. Scintilla is the latest from Stendeck, and while that contrast is still present throughout the album, much of it is more streamlined. This is really an IDM album, influenced as much by late 90’s dance music as it is industrial and ambient. It works well though, as Stendeck is clearly a focused producer who knows where he wants his music to end up. There’s never a moment where the music sounds forced, and everything builds naturally. That’s not an easy accomplishment, especially when you consider the stark contrast in light and heavy that’s found on Scintilla. This is the kind of electronic music that impresses on both a technical and creative level, and it’s the most consistent album of this great producer’s career. It may not make the same impression as his previous release, but it’s still an essential listen for fans of electronic and industrial.
Tycho’s Dive is both upbeat and downtempo at the same. This is beautiful soft electronic music with a light atmosphere and strong psychedelic influences. Acoustic guitars, synths, and drum beats make up the bulk of the music, but Tycho takes them in interesting directions. It’s clear that Tycho has a wide variety of influences, and he does a commendable job of simplifying them into a straightforward and often strikingly beautiful package. There aren’t many surprises, but you can’t ask for anything more than gorgeous beats that are accessible to just about anyone. Dive isn’t necessarily a masterful album, but it’s the kind of record that any music fan can listen to and get something out of.