ACL 2016: Top Ten Electronic

third-lawThe electronic section is where we find the beats, but they’re not always for dancing; in fact, none of these albums is a straightforward club set.  Instead, these artists use beats as a framework on which to hang their wildest imaginations. Some of the recordings are as sweet as a kiss; others are as harsh as a slap.  Together they form a tapestry of drums and adornments, from sampled choirs to marching insects to Dutch TV.  Was electronic music ever this exciting?  It is today.  We’ve been hoping for new styles of music to emerge, and this year they did so with a vengeance.  The fun will be in naming them, and arguing about the names.  But for now we can agree on one thing: the future is secure.

And now A Closer Listen presents The Top Ten Electronic Albums of 2016!

Ash Koosha ~ I AKA I (Ninja Tune)
Iranian born Ash Koosha sees synaesthesia as a blessing rather than a curse, and he uses his latest album to translate the syndrome into the sonic realm.  The beats don’t always land where expected, nor do the melodies wander where one might predict.  This lack of predictability leads to a fascinating listen, as the method to the artist’s madness is not apparent on first play ~ or even the last.  We’re simply glad he’s invited us into his aural world.  (Richard Allen)

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Banabila & Machinefabriek ~ Macrocosms (Tapu)
Four collaborations, each one different yet alluring in its own right: this is a pairing that works.  On their latest effort, Banabila and Machinefabriek use field recordings along with elements both organic and electronic to highlight the relationship between the micro and the macro.  The natural world is the focus, presented as benign (“Kaleidoscope”) or dangerous (“Prey”), but always lovely by design.  The beautiful photography draws the viewer in like a Venus Fly Trap, but the sounds are worth the risk.  (Richard Allen)

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Brett Naucke ~ Executable Dreamtime (Umor Rex)
Our original review called Executable Dreamtime a ‘duet between man and machine’, aptly summarising the process experimental producer Brett Naucke undertook in transcribing recurring dreams through modular synth patch creation. Only occasionally holding their hand, Haucke allows the auto-melody generators that comprise each patch to run free, offering earnestly blinking melodies in constant soliloquy interspersed with shy, euphonic tones with warming embraces. An understated delight. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

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Dextro ~ In the Crossing (16k)
In the transitional state of journeying, little is predictable – long stretches of nothingness become flurries of activity; temperatures move from the tropics to the Baltics within hours. Charting such transition, UK producer Dextro offers a wonderfully diverse set that lulls with droning electronics and soothing guitar and keys, before rousing us from reverie with groove-based beats and bass lines. Far from feeling disjointed, In the crossing is polished with a calming veneer that seems to implore the listener to embrace the unpredictable. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

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FIS ~ From Patterns to Details (Subtext)
From Patterns to Details is deeply textured and often abrasive music. Engaged in a battle that pits flora and fauna against machine and mother nature against mutation, the harmonies climb like Virginia creepers, scurrying over the noise and suffocating the electronics under the weight of a thousand leaves. Insectile noises can’t hide the underlying biology of the music: the drones mimic the subtle, consuming intelligence of nature, always one step ahead, decaying, repairing and reclaiming the streets from a wave of technological aberrations.  (James Catchpole)

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Jilk ~ In Need of Tess (Project Mooncircle)
Jilk offers a necessary infusion of disparate influences, from ambience to modern composition to post-rock, in an attempt to widen the boundaries of electronic music.  On their new EP, they bring the beats, but present them with intelligence and craft.  “Nim” is the highlight of a strong set, a memorable tune that will keep the heart humming and the feet tapping long into the year’s coldest season.  (Richard Allen)

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Katie Gately ~ Color (Tri Angle)
What’s a pop album doing on our year-end chart?  The answer is simple: this is future pop, a minority report for now but a memorable one.  And Gately is not wholly a pop artist, but one who plays within its boundaries while coloring outside its lines.  Her vocal pyrotechnics ~ loops, layers, doublings back ~ create a sonic miasma.  She offers a way out of the chart stagnation that has mired music for the greater part of the century.  We can only hope that her sound catches on.  (Richard Allen)

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Kim Myhr ~ Bloom (Hubro)
Bloom could not only be about growth, since the album cover suggests a certain kind of overabundance: these sounds, even at their most succinct, are the product of cycles in and of excess. Their life is not one of rhythmic regularity, the picture-perfect stills of flowers, but a multitudinous virality that spontaneously spurts in a dozen directions at once. We tend to associate the speed of the virus with the speed of a machine, all roar and lightning, but it is perhaps closer to the speed of swamps in summer, entire worlds in movement that emit just a few, quiet little sounds at the edge of being perceptible. (David Murrieta)

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Lakker ~ Struggle & Emerge (R & S)
Are we still calling this techno?  On Struggle & Emerge, Lakker limit their palette to samples of “field recording, TV and radio broadcasts from the Dutch National AV archive”.  But there’s nothing in these sounds to imply limitation.  Instead, this is the sound of water and industry at war, trading leads until the final victor is declared.  Remembering the Dutch floods of 1686, Lakker calls attention to the drowned church of Groningen; while the bells are silent, the requiem is not.  (Richard Allen)

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Roly Porter ~ Third Law (Tri Angle)
Third Law is a new angle of excursion for Roly Porter, who uses drone and distortion to scribble around the edges of electronics.  Porter has become the poster boy for a new generation of recording artists, including recent collaborators Shapednoise and Rabit.  But like Ben Frost before him, remains the focal point of the scene.  The majesty of this recording is that it acknowledges the template of typical electronic music, but declines to follow it.  We hear a revolution in these grooves.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link


  1. Hey there,

    I am really impressed with this round up, I didnt even know this genre existed in such a big way.
    I have fallen in love while on this page… honestly. My favourite has to have been FIS ~ From Patterns to Details. How is this not more famous. The sounds hit me in every part of my body, I havent felt like that since dancing to busted when I was a teenager(dont judge me please).

    I live in Australia and I imagine the younger festival goers would love this.

    Anyway really impressed with this collection.

    Mind if I share this? some of my friends will love this.

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