2020 Winter Music Preview ~ Electronic

The largest of our five winter previews boasts over 50 releases, enough to keep us dancing until the sunlight returns!  This is already shaping up to be a banner year for the electronic genre, with highlights spread across the board.  Veterans make long-awaited reappearances while relative newcomers impress with stellar new sets.  If there’s a musical cure for seasonal affective disorder, you’ll probably find it here, as this is the only preview that contains a section reserved for happy music!  This being said, our top picks are intensely serious.

Our cover image is taken from the new children’s book The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis, published by Candlewick Books ~ a perfect gift for the darker months!

Rich’s Pick #1:  Katie Gately ~ Loom (Houndstooth, February 14)
From the moment it was announced, this album was one of our top picks of the season.  Recently Katie Gately was listed in our Top Ten Experimental Albums of the Decade with an EP, the only one to crash the party.  So we were saddened to learn that her mother had passed away.  This album is dedicated to Katie’s mom and appropriately scheduled for Valentine’s Day release.  At turns tender, confused, angry and sad, but consistently loving, Loom is an intense expression of mourning.  Gately’s voice is looped and warped, laid atop textures of earthquakes and funerals, a powerful memorial.


Rich’s Pick #2:  Nazar ~ Guerrilla (Hyperdub, March 13)
Just over a year ago, we reviewed Nazar’s debut EP Enclave.  Now this powerful Angolan artist has finished his debut album.  Rife with the sounds of civil war, road horrors and family terror, Guerrilla is intensely authentic: rough-edged, bullet-hewn and relevant, a report from behind the lines, opening a window into a life most of us will only read about and some will never know exists.


Synthetic Dreams

Like Katie Gately, Sign Libra also combines electronics and voice, but adopts a completely different tone.  Each track on Sea to Sea is inspired by a different sea of the moon, and the video for lead single “Sea of Islands” is delightfully mod.  Might her house actually look like this?  Call this a blast from the past or a breath of fresh air; either way, it’s delightful (RVNG, February 14).  Beatrice Dillon combines Caribbean beats with multiple samples, vocal and instrumental, on Workaround.  The album includes contributions from Laurel Halo and Lucy Railton, and exudes a cozy international vibe (PAN, February 7). The trio Asa Tone incorporates global influences on Temporary Music, recorded in Jakarta.  Occasional vocals surface, producing a peaceful easy feeling (Leaving, January 24).

There’s a lot more synth where that comes from, and it comes in all different flavors.  Pulse Emitter‘s music is peacefully retro, offering a tranquil vibe with hints of ambience.  By this point, the artist has recorded nearly a hundred albums, and Swirling‘s groove comes naturally (Hausu Mountain, January 17).  Euglossine appeared on our Happiest Music of the Year chart last month, but Psaronius is a bit more shaded.  Fear not; tracks such as “Utah Teapot” still bring the funk (Orange Milk, February 14)! On the same day, the label will also release Jacoti Sommes‘ 80’s themed synth fest Travel Time.  On the final track of RiteT.U. shifts from synth to wind chimes, providing a perfect comedown after a textured exploration (False Industries, February 28).

After three recently collected EPs, Craven Faults is set to unveil its debut LP.  Like its hypnotically rhythmic predecessors, Erratics & Unconformities uses longform pieces to dive into an ocean of melodic synth (January 10).  In like fashion, Wacław Zimpel‘s excursions are extended workouts; three of the four tracks on Massive Oscillations approach the quarter-hour mark.  Rhythm and repetition are hallmarks, but the title track also includes a good deal of squall (January 31).


Humberto Polar & Mike Sandoval perform duets between synth and bass on Six Asymmetric Studies, providing a dark underpinning to an otherwise light palette (OTONO, January 21).  In contrast, An On Bast‘s Coherent Excitations looks dark, but it’s not; beneath the black cover is white vinyl, highlighting the set as a study in contrasts.  The artist writes that the album is about “paying attention to the flowing stream of life,” and her music echoes her prose (Modularfield, January 25).  Bit-Tuner‘s EXO is an experiment of sorts; mostly beatless, the tracks rely on texture and tempo to lead the way.  Animated videos will accompany each of the tracks on tour.  The album offers commentary on human interaction, and seeks a way forward out of the current morass (~OUS, February 7).


Guess what ~ we’ve already got a spring album!  Spoken word, samples, trumpet and warm ambience decorate The Orb‘s upcoming concept album Abolition of the Royal Family.  Paterson remains relevant, as many of the artists in this article claim his work as an influence.  Abolition is the second part of the diptych that began with No Sounds Are Out of Bounds, and the follow-up addresses East India Trading Company’s involvement in the opium trade (Cooking Vinyl, March 27).  We’ll list it again in spring, but wanted to tell you about it now!  Meanwhile, Ulf Ivarsson (who has collaborated with The Orb) resurfaces with the dub-inflected Lower zone, which sees the bassist continue to expand his sonic horizons (Lamour, February 7).  In such a friendly competition, everybody wins.

It’s All Beginning to Click

Marcus Popp’s musical career has stretched past the course of a quarter century, but he’s still going strong. Oval may not sound as micro as he did in the 90’s (Microstoria’s “Sleepy People”), but in a new decade he’s ready to reach a whole new audience.  Last fall’s Eksploio EP was the prelude to January’s Scis.  Each release contains a surprising amount of melody, as chimes and bells occupy equal space with the angular beats (Thrill Jockey, January 17).  Also active since the 90’s, Squarepusher dusts off his old hardware for a return engagement.  Be Up a Hello could be a lost transmission from that time, but as his music always sounded futuristic, its time is completely now (Warp, January 31, pictured right).


Pre-orders of Chevel‘s Elvine Unlocked are available alongside a sample pack of “over 950 sounds and loops,” a unique selling point that’s bound to raise interest in his style of glitch.  Chevel has also won a fun licensing deal with Casio G-Shock, who showcases “Late Bloomer” in a skateboarding video (Enklav, February 14).  After seeing the title Entropy Noodle, one expects the unexpected.  The Nag’s Head mixes beats and samples into a non-linear mix, and includes three noodle songs, as well as one about a giant squid (Kit Records, January 10).


Samuel Rohrer‘s percussion adds an organic tone to Continual Decentering, which when combined with modular synth yields a slightly experimental flair.  As the drummer of Ambiq, Rohrer has proven comfortable in multiple genres. (Arjunamusic, February 7, pictured left).  CEL (Felix Kubin & Hubert Zemler) pepper their electronics with xylophone, vibraphone and African percussion to produce a crisp and danceable hybrid (Bureau B, February 14).  Recondite‘s icy techno seems like a perfect match for the season; even the frosted blue vinyl whispers winter.  Yet his first album in five years is not without warmth; one of Dwell‘s interludes folds in the sound of his wife’s electric toothbrush (Ghostly International, January 24)!  Scott Young blends house and techno on the Ket City EP, a five-track set that’s not afraid of shuffling its textures (Discos Capablanca, 20 February).  The same holds true for Bersonist on Middle Ouest, which prefers not to rest in a single sub-genre for long (Kompakt, January 17).


Smile for the Selfie!

Chapelier Fou folds flavors like a musical omelette.  Modern composition, hip-hop and dance all contribute to the positive, optimistic textures of the double release Méridiens + Paralleles (Ici d’Ailleurs, February 28 & April 18).  Project: Mooncircle has two albums planned for January.  Takeleave‘s jazzy Belonging focuses on themes of “arrival and homesickness,” while Long Arm‘s sometimes moody, sometimes playful Silent Opera concentrates on the soul (January 28 and 31).  Sunda Arc (named for a volcanic arc) tackles nature themes on Tides, with an ear to systems such as storms and plates.  Lead tracks “Dawn” and “Hymn” are warm and enveloping (Gondwana, February 7).  A Co.‘s three-minute miniatures scream for radio attention.  Their tone is relentlessly upbeat, inspired by video games yet suitable for parlour play.  If SideQuest crosses over, we won’t be surprised (Aco-Music, January 17).


still life‘s for a long time I went to bed early blends subtle, upbeat electronics with an encouraging amount of modern composition ~ a formula designed to defeat seasonal affective disorder.  This genre-splicing set is released January 10 on the suitably named Hush Hush Records.  A month later, the label will unveil a five-song EP from Tangerine Dream’s Tukiko (Hoshiko Yamane, who recently released a collaboration with Mikael Lind on Time Released Sound).  Inspired by Moog and Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka On The Shore, the EP embeds violin in electronic frameworks, creating a pleasing patina (February 7).  Jochen Tiberius Koch‘s Astoria is a follow-up to 2018’s Walden, and while it includes tunes inspired by the same great pond and famous book, the timbre has changed to include a wealth of vocals and chimes.  The new additional inspiration is a Leipzig hotel that has managed to survive across the course of a century; one wonders if this will play between its walls (Schole, January 17).  Clearly, the happiest cover award goes to Andras for Joyful.  The music is ebullient as well.  Part of the proceeds will go to the Invasive Species Council (Beats in Space, January 31).  Should we be calling InBach “Bach to the Future?”  Arandel‘s synth reinventions are as bubbly as an amusement park arcade (InFiné Éditions, January 24).


Instrumental hip-hop (with a smattering of samples) is the order of the day on mmmagic, a head-bobbing, synth-happy set from Pixil Pyrmd (Raund Haus, January 24).  Multiple styles meet on Yuni Wa‘s Allegory, including trap and house: most electronic fans are bound to find something in their comfort zones and something outside (January 31).  Drummer Jeremy Gustin (The Ah) uses animal noises, dolphin sounds, laughter and baby cries as percussion.  Mere Husk is packed with playful timbres, and possesses a prominent pop feel (NNA Tapes, January 31).


Is It Ambient?

Gigi Masin‘s music lies on the porous border between ambient and electronic.  Calypso is a double album inspired by poetry, mythology and islands real and imagined.  The timbres may morph, but they retain an isle-like feel throughout (Apollo Records, February 28). Xoros combines the talents of Will Ward and Jack Wyllie (Szun Waves & Portico Quartet).  Their debut album is self-titled, but in light of the cover, Ouroboros might have worked too (Truant Recordings, February 7).  A move to the Olympic peninsula inspired Departure, a lush-sounding release that includes viola, kalimba and flute.  Kennebec‘s soothing album is released by Night Time Stories, a companion arm of Late Night Tales (February 14).  Paul Haslinger (Tangerine Dream) is a veteran electronic artist who once upon a time even had a really cool video on MTV’s The Amp (“World Without Rules”).  Since then he’s expanded into film scoring, including some surprising titles (“Resident Evil!”).  Exit Ghost is inspired by The Magus and combines grand piano and electronics with a feeling of suspense (Artificial Instinct, February 7).  Asher Levitas‘ Final Quiet began as an ambient album, designed for sleep enhancement.  But something changed along the way, and it became a different animal.  While some tracks are soothing, others are likely to wake the sleeper (Beyond the Valley, February 7, pictured right).


The Dark Side

Slugabed is purposely weird, and they exist!!! threatens to expose the existence of alien species with avant garde percussion and electronics (Activia Benz, January 10).  The Black Dog also believes that the truth is out there, and continues to spread the word on Conspiracy Tapes Live, which is culled from a series of lectures and live performances (Dust Science, January 10).  Pod Blotz uses a library card at the Vintage Synthesizer Museum on Transdimensional System, which sounds as if it could accompany an alien invasion (Dais, January 17).


Inspired by fatherhood, Felix Rösch grew ambitious, expanding his symphonic sound to that of a 30-piece orchestra.  Yet str:orchestra still lands in the electronic genre thanks to its dark textures and beats: a reflection of the fears and anxieties that balance the joys of parenting (January 10).  Even more mysterious is Racine‘s Quelque Chose Tombe (Something Falls), which walks the halls of mental illness to find terrors within and without.  Defining “vulnerability as the new normal,” the album struggles to find hope, but it’s hard to hear much light in these grooves (Danse Noir, February 21).  A second chance for Ouroboros arrives on Aquarian‘s The Snake That Eats Itself, an intensely percussive and claustrophobic affair that incorporates the sound of a year-long construction project next door.  It’s nice that one Valentine’s Day album will be black (Bedouin, February 14)!

Phase Fatale‘s Scanning Backwards is “all about control,” and addresses the use of sub-frequencies in everything from advertisements to the military.  The backdrop may be political, but the set is pure dance ~ although some of the dances may be lockstep in nature (Ostgut Ton, January 24).  Schacke‘s 4-track EP There’s Something Inside Me combines techno with rave and is aimed squarely at the club floor (Intrepid Skin, February 21, pictured left).  low.poly.exception is a reflection of the times.  The Year of the Net is fast-paced, computer-literate and a little ADHD.  An industrial influence is apparent in the guitars and high strings (January 2).  Even more industrial (and proud of it) is Dark Roads for the Young Magus, which relies on percussion and synth to create a delightfully retro sound.  “Each song is an exorcism,” the writes Cathode Ray Tube; but it sounds more like a party (TruthTable, January 20).


Compilations and Remixes

Hivern Discs has just passed the decade mark, and they are celebrating with the massive 6×12″ set Fragments, featuring artists from across the roster.  Whether inflused with house, techno or club, they all share a warm melodic vibe (January 23).  Continuing their own 10-year celebration, Stroboscopic Artefacts is releasing Lucy Reworks, which includes new versions of tracks from artists including Caterina Barbieri and Donato Dozzy (January 24).  The triple 12″ Mothership yields multiple BPMs with a techno-electro vibe.  This global set will be released January 27 by Midnight Shift x Voitax.  Inland has selected the tracks for Stream State, a bangin’ techno mix on Overtherainbow.  The beat remains steady throughout, primed for club consumption as is (February 21).

Richard Allen

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