ACL 2019 ~ Top Ten Electronic

There’s some wild stuff going on in our Electronic section this year.  This year’s list includes a nocturnal symphony, an environmental plea, an ode to changing seasons, a mangled club set and a nearly unclassifiable band.  Many of these selections were just reviewed, and made an immediate impact on our staff; it usually takes a lot more time, but these entries were just too strong.  From subtle ambient percussion to full contact, the works we’ve chosen cover the spectrum of danceable beats.  And now, A Closer Listen presents the best Electronic music of 2019!

Caterina Barbieri ~ Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)
Certain other reviewers have got a bit over-enthused by the word ‘ecstatic’ in the title, and possibly reading too much into a track named “Spine Of Desire”. We tend to keep our reactions above the waist, but even we can’t deny the wave of joy that stems from listening to Caterina Barbieri’s work. Her fourth album (and first for Editions Mego) is a delight from start to finish, tapping into a rich vein of analogue electronic music that goes back to Tangerine Dream and before, whilst continually looking forward. Opener “Fantas” was rightly heralded in our review but it doesn’t leave the other tracks in the shade, each one coalescing into a singular musical vision whether it be the ghostly chorus on “Arrows Of Time” or the throbbing pulse of “Pinnacles Of You”. The crucial element is, clearly, human; there are lots of artists occupying similar territory to Caterina Barbieri at the moment but she’s so far ahead of the crowd as to be a dot on the horizon. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Dolphin Midwives ~ Liminal Garden (Beacon Sound/Sounds et al)
Dolphin Midwives, the solitary work of harpist/multi-instrumentalist Sage Fisher, explore the fractured parts of a specifically feminine identity on Liminal Garden. As the kaleidoscopic butterflies on the cover conjure themes of transformation and fragmentation, the music too contradicts and fights itself with alternating songs full of voices, harp, and skittery electronic processing. As Richard Allen wrote in his original review, the album is seeping with “gossamer threads of sound”— sounds and songs that first pull apart from each other before making thorough sense when taken in as a whole.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Dominik Eulberg ~ Mannigfaltig (!K7)
Rarely has an environmental message seemed so colorful, contagious and fun.  After eight years away, the artist returns to offer up his heartfelt plea: protect these species.  The music sparkles with energy, inviting listeners to rise and dance; the message ignites the soul, encouraging full engagement with climate causes.  The “King of Naturalist Techno” has recorded his masterpiece.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Ed Carlsen ~ Morning Hour (Moderna)
One of the most warming sets on this list, Morning Hour offers the promise of better days ahead. Leaving darker days in his past, Ed Carlsen leans heavily into electronics to accompany his piano and guitar playing, with kick drums, skittish percussion and synths making persistent but gentle incursions. The effect is almost trance-like at times, as during the understated build of “Words”, and highlights how seamlessly the record meshes energy with pensivity. The result is an invigorating set that nonetheless respects that morning is a time to be energised but also…restrained. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Meemo Comma ~ Sleepmoss (Planet Mu)
Lara Rix-Martin describes Sleepmoss as “a romantic eulogy to autumn and winter, a time for peaceful inner reflection”, but it doesn’t feel like an album at peace. However, it certainly does capture nature at its most rugged and bleak: for every sample of birds singing happily away, there is a track that could be subtitled ‘lost, alone, in the woods at night’. It seems to be a recurring theme in our round-up this year that the more bound up in technology we become as a society, the more artists are seeking to draw our attention back to nature before we obliterate for good whatever is left. Sleepmoss departs from the usual template of basking in the bucolic background by drawing in disruptive industrial elements that underline the impact of humans upon the countryside. This is an album with a strong narrative path through the months, clear in the knowledge that there isn’t always a happy ending. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Polynation ~ Igneous (Atomnation)
From the title and absorbing cover, you might expect Igneous to be a hard-hitting and jagged set; in fact, all rough edges have been weathered by the constant flow of water. The Dutch duo of Hosman and Stuut offer a smooth and refined set of dance music in which crisply produced beats and percussive loops propel the pieces forward but rarely rest on their laurels (“Lory” being a great example). And after being swept down cascades of purifying synths and infectious rhythms, we are offered still pools of ambient pads and vocalization in which to drift. Take a breathe and dive in. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

PYUR ~ Oratorio for the Underworld (Subtext)
Cello!  Violin!  Industrial beats?  It all makes sense as one listens to this immersive gothic gem.  PYUR’s shamanistic background is on full display, along with a love for mythology and a fascination with the tension between tradition and technology.  The set bursts with original ideas and includes passages unlike any listeners have heard before: a fever dream with a pulse.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Sabiwa ~ DaBa (Chinabot)
Sabiwa’s DaBa is an accomplished, eclectic follow-up to her previous album, which made last year’s ACL lists. From ambient to bass music, and from glitch-hop and industrial, DaBa channel-hops through contemporary styles of electronic sound. Does technology expand our reality or trick us into denouncing it? This is a fine soundtrack for pondering that question.  (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

WaqWaq Kingom ~ Essaka Hoisa (Phantom Limb)
It’s a shame that the vinyl edition of Essaka Hoisa has sold out as the cover doesn’t deserve to be reduced to thumbnail size – it’s a riotous and at first bewildering image with a skeleton, golden pears and a giant eyeball carried in a basket (it’s a ‘kago‘, used for transporting dignitaries). It is a perfect fit for the music of WaqWaq Kingdom; Japanese but with nods to other cultures as well. The duo of Kiki Hitomi (who has recorded with dub monsters King Midas Sound) and Shigeru Ishihara (aka DJ Scotch Egg) have produced a dizzying cross-pollination of global sounds from dancehall, through 8-bit techno to Shinto bells – and much more besides. It’s blended into a hyperactive whole, fizzing off in all directions, which could be over-powering were it not so invigorating. The lyrics relay personal pain but the music counteracts with a joyous disregard for musical boundaries; the phrase Essaka Hoisa was traditionally shouted by kago carriers to lift spirits and strengthen their unity. It’s a testament to this partnership that the music that WaqWaq Kingdom does the same here – consider our spirits duly raised. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

W00DY ~ My Diary (Self-Released)
Full of an indescribable amount of ideas for its brief runtime, W00dy’s My Diary is a buoyant, restless chunk of experimental club music that can alternately encourage both revelation and— I say this in complete positivity— headache. The diary we’re given is a mangled sketchbook of contradicting thoughts and indiscernible images that transgress their natural spaces and reach a newfound peak of absurdist joy. The chopped footwork vocals and breakbeat freakouts push W00dy further into a unique category of dance music for indecisive souls who have the entire world on their minds.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

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