ACL 2014: Top Ten Electronic

BecsElectronic music isn’t just for dancing, although there’s plenty of dance music included in our year-end list.  The list also includes childlike lullabies, dense sonic fuzz, and smooth, languid excursions.  The eclectic selection below represents a cross-section of our tastes.

One highlight of the list is the presence of three female performers: two solo artists and half of a duo.  2014 has been a great year for emerging female artists, and when we consider the dominance of females on the pop charts in 2014, we’ve got to hand it to the majority gender; this is their year.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Electronic Releases of 2014.

bvdub ~ A History of Distance (n5MD)
By now, listeners should feel well and truly acquainted with the music of Brock Van Wey (bvdub). His music glistens with emotion in a place that moves slowly and somberly. A History of Distance plays with padded rhythms, garage beats and forlorn, heart-felt vocals. His atmospheres are lovely, but they are pained by the sad, sizable gap that turns love into an ex-love, kept apart by the cruelty of distance.  (James Catchpole)

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Chapelier Fou ~ Deltas (Ici d’ailleurs)
Deltas is a glorious and eccentric melting pot of electronics and organic instruments. French artist Louis Warynski has managed to concoct an intelligent record that somehow sounds as whimsical and dazzling as a day at a funfair. His use of myriad electronic voices and beats lends each track a sprightly personality of its own, although guitars and violins play key roles too – mainly as providers of the subtle but infectious melodies and the more soulful moments. He may paint with a garish palette of modern colours, but with tracks such as “Polish Lullaby”, Warynski also shows the guile to add the occasional warm, nostalgia-evoking filter over the scene – a familiar face among the excitable throng of the fair. (Chris Redfearn)

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(exitpost) ~ Sweet Fade (Self-released)
Sweet Fade bursts with warmth and enthusiasm. Electronics waver in and out and are interspersed with a warm female vocal. It’s reminiscent of Spring, of new life and fresh starts. Little melodies decorate the lovely sound like fresh pink blossom. It’s fun and accessible – check out the track “Sweet Fade” for a beautiful fairy-tale – but most importantly it leaves you with a smile.  (James Catchpole)

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Fennesz ~ Bécs (Editions Mego)
After all these years and all these landmark releases, can Christian Fennesz still surprise us? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes, in the form of Bécs, a sequel of sorts to his classic Endless Summer. The usual Fennesz hallmarks are all here, from sheets of shrieking feedback to modulated noise that would make Tim Hecker smile and nod. Nothing about this template is much surprising in 2014. But there’s a freshness to these proceedings, a sense of renewed focus and energy, that means you’d never guess its been six years since his most recent full-length.  (Zachary Corsa)

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Golden Diskó Ship ~ Invisible Bonfire (Spezialmaterial)
Invisible Bonfire may contain more vocals than most ACL-covered releases, but “one-girl orchestra” Theresa Stroetges fits our bill nonetheless by using her dynamic voice as more of an instrument or texture than as a deliverer of lyrics. Crackled and distorted by effects, it often melds seamlessly with the blips and bray of the disjointed keys and persistent percussion. Equally impressive is the emotional range on offer – the more sombre tracks such as “Movie Theatre” demonstrate how Stroetges’ guitar and piano playing is equally as dynamic as her superb vocal gymnastics. (Chris Redfearn)

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Hobo Cubes ~ Apex Ideals (Debacle Records)
The always-prolific Francesco De Gallo returns with a spectral clatter of drones and beats on what might be his most intriguing collection of pieces as Hobo Cubes yet. That constant push-and-pull between these two seemingly-warring elements lends his work a tension that so many of his compatriots lack, and makes for a thrilling final result. This album is long on atmosphere and aura, and is all the better for it. The songs fill the spaces the moods open up for them, to astounding effect.  (Zachary Corsa)

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kangding ray ~ solens arc (raster-noton)
On a personal level, Kangding Ray’s performance at the Mutek festival in Montreal remains one of the highlights of the year, precipating a welcome trip through his back-catalog. Kangding Ray’s music has become progressively less austere over the years, but even at his most minimal and glitch his compositions maintain a soul and warmth rare in both club music and experimental electronics, let alone in their fusion. Despite its dark intensity and club-ready beats, there’s no mistaking Solens Arc as a Raster-Noton record, and both artist and label have had a stellar year.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Katie Gately/Tlaotlon ~ Split #23 (FatCat)
The penultimate entry in FatCat’s Split Series pairs two distinctive voices in electronic music.  Katie Gately’s multi-layered, side-long “Pivot” is her finest track to date, a remarkable investigation of the potential of the human voice.  Tlaotlon’s shorter instrumental pieces veer into abstraction without ever losing the beat.  Together, they form the year’s best split.  We can’t wait for #24!  (Richard Allen)

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Lullatone ~ while winter whispers (Self-released)
While we fully expected a spring installment of Lullatone’s seasonal series, the winter installment was enough to get us through the warm months and back to the cold.  Meanwhile, Lullatone’s Patatap app allowed fans to turn their own laptops and phones into Lullatone keyboards.  The playful duo may be the best in the world at creating childlike music that isn’t just for children.  (Richard Allen)

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pronoun ~ faux (Self-released)
pronoun hails from Australia. Faux is a new kind of shoegaze – dark and sometimes deadly. You’ll have to be alert to its sound as it squirms over the ground. Rough, abrasive textures, darkly gleaming harmonies and dirty, wriggling loops are all in Faux. Nocturnal synths shoot out across pronoun’s black universe, and energetic harmonies rest against punchy, anchor-heavy beats. Shoegaze has adapted and evolved – it knows how to survive.  (James Catchpole)

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