Over the past year, our Electronic department has become our most active, and with good reason: we need these upbeat flavors, these reminders of body movement, these tempoed tunes to remind us that better days are on their way. The surge in electronic music during the pandemic speaks to the fact that this music is not just for bodies, but for hearts. When we listen, we’re buoyed; these artists capture something elemental that begins with a pulse and expands ever outward. Now that our music is more portable than ever, anywhere can be a dance floor: a subway platform, a city street, even a cubicle.
As the world continues its deep dive into nostalgia, we continue to hear new artists resurrecting old styles. If you thought the glory days of your favorite subgenre were over, listen again; you may be in luck. And now, with one ear on the past and the other in the future, let’s check out the early slate of electronic contenders for winter 2021!
We’re loving the winter cover for Badmixday‘s Goya, an instrumental hip-hop set that builds on the success of 2017’s A Quiet Mind Awaits. Loops, live instruments and jazz combine in this intricate journey that feels organic despite its electronic pedigree. The peaceful tone reflects the artist’s experiences in Sufism (Dome of Doom, January 29). Fellow beatmaker Bolomite Jr. folds in wide swaths of samples from across the spectrum. Cold Feet borders on jazz but with a headz sensibility (Dear Life Records, January 27). With 10 tracks in 16 minutes, Catch92‘s (mostly) instrumental hip-hop EP Capricious flies by like a soft snow squall, or since it won’t be out for a while, perhaps a spring breeze (March 9). Beatchild‘s retrospective Nostalgic Beats of 2008-2020 is a blast from the past, although the title is but a fraction as the music draws from the vinyl of earlier decades (BBE Music, January 29).
Around the World
Nigeria’s Emeka Ogboh has recorded a tapestry of sounds from Lagos ~ street conversation, traffic, and ambient sound ~ and woven them into an electronic tapestry. Beyond the Yellow Haze was first an exhibition and is now a vinyl release from A-TON (January 15). Bicep‘s Isles is a life-affirming record, one of the few in the modern era to be released in every format (LP, CD, tape and digital). Bulgarian, Turkish and Hindi voices decorate these grooves to remind us of the unity found on an international dance floor (Ninja Tune, January 22). Dekalb Works‘ Duologue is an intriguing sociological investigation of accents in the U.K. and the U.S., accompanied by skittering rhythms, ambience and embedded choirs (Where to Now?, January 15).
Electronic Meets Organic
Mouse On Mars is still going strong after 25 years, and AAI sees them continue to push their sound into new territories. This time around, they return to the percussive rhythms of Dodo NKishi, and augment their rhythms with the sound of AI. This means some of the album was written by artificial intelligence; will their next album be recorded without them in the room (Thrill Jockey, February 26)? Live drums also accompany STUFF. on the jazzy, upbeat T(h)reats, whose title defies its timbre. Cumulus is the first single (Sdban Ultra, March 12). And while we haven’t heard any of it yet, we were super-happy to hear the announcement of a new EP from Bambi OFS so soon after YAKKA made two of our year-end charts. Kwon-9 is due February 5 on Antibody.
Grandbrothers starts with piano notes and turns them into rhythms; it would be easy to classify All the Unknown as a modern composition album, but we keep wanting to dance (City Slang, January 15). The same holds true for Alchi‘s debut album Full of It, which incorporates organic instrumentation and influences ranging from modern composition to post-rock, while keeping the tempo going and the positivity high (Mylja, January 29). In Parallel is our first chance to meet the “glockenspiel robot,” whose contributions sound entirely human thanks to Emika & Paul Frick. The piano contributes a great portion as well, and a series of CNCPT remixes rounds out the sparkling set (Improvisations x Inspirations, January 22).
The Paradox is Jeff Mills and Jean-Phi Dary, two disparate artists who form a cohesive whole on the jazzy, beat-driven Counter Active. Afrobeat and Cuban rhythms each play major roles (Axis, January 29). File sharing collective remote_min/exp returns with its fourth entry in a series that obscures the identity of the specific performers in order to highlight the work of the group as a whole. Vol_04 is unveiled on January 15.
Dylan Thomas meets pandemic beats on You Carry the World You Create, composed in response to the pandemic’s effect on artists. autodealer may sound somber, but the act of creation is itself an act of hope (January 1). No Arrival‘s Converse has aught to do with footwear, although one might don the popular kicks to dance to these shadowed beats. The moody yet intriguing set is out on Bricolage January 15.
Pierce with Arrow (Troy Pierce and Poison Arrow) wrote their album backwards, filming videos first then composing their scores. The dark,, surreal and romantically distressing Shatter will be released this Valentine’s Day (Dais). Lovely cover art belies the fact that PHILMS debut album is titled The Surface of Anger; but the artist finds tender buds beneath a surface of drone and percussion (February 5). Inkasso embeds drills and chains on Zeichen im Schacht der verschleierten Tatsachen to produce an industrial dance flavor, more playful than menacing (Osàre! Editions, January 29).
Steve Moore‘s Analog Sensitivity is as close as can be to ambient while remaining electronic; let’s call this a 51/49 split (Be With Records, February 19). Aseret‘s Confessioni Temporali strides the fence in similar fashion. One can feel the pulses building even without the drums. By the time it’s over, one is in a pleasant trance (Midira, January 15). The same holds true for the soothing sounds of Richard von der Schulenburg, whose Moods & Dances 2021 wraps around the listener like a quiet stream (Bureau B, January 29).
Losange‘s sprightly Agate reflects light as it spins, a colorful set whose tracks are accompanied by flash fiction (January 13). An 80s vibe permeates LLelleyn‘s Recapture the Past; the passport is found in the title. The artist is also known as Martin Enke (Live at Robert Johnson, January 15). Sunlight Owl is another artist enamored with warm, retro vibes. The self-released Vastlustre EP will be out January 10, and is preceded by the video single Restup.
Pauline Anna Strom returns with Angel Tears in Sunlight, a series of synth explorations that delve deep into nature and memory (RVNG Intl., February 1). Venus Ex Machina composes an elegy for a world injured by climate change; the rhythmic Lux is released January 29 on AD 93. The warmth of Yu Su‘s debut album Yellow River Blue is aided by live drums, bass and sweet, wordless vocals. The cover, however, is orange (bié Records, January 22).
Ben Peers‘ auto-mátiqa starts off twinkling but ends up in IDM and big, booming bass. Four long tracks (one nearly eighteen minutes) keep morphing as they progress (Elli Records, January 15). Acid and electro dance around the room on The Spy‘s Deep Dream EP, sporting four tracks and two upbeat remixes (Sticky Ground, January 1, pictured to the right). Minotaur Shock returns with Qi, honoring Sesame Street as every track begins with the letter Q (Bytes, January 29). Hausu Mountain continues on its psychedelic journey with the wild and wooly Wobbly; Popular Monitress is an album about “machine listening,” with a cast of supporting instruments that has to be seen to be believed (February 5).
Disintegration State has announced a full slate of winter 2021 releases, beginning with Body on the Thames‘ Public Domain 3D Terrain, which invites couch traveling as we dream of returning to the bus, train and plane (January 15). A week later, the label releases Gibraltarians‘ 80s-influenced Empathy Machine Recovery, whose lead track “Told You I Was Sick” launches with a New Order-esque percussion sequence. Steve Hadfield‘s The Silly Baby LP is exactly what it sounds like: samples of Steve’s real baby mixed with ebullient electronic ~ a completely endearing release (February 5). We fast forward to March 5, and Ghost Halo has its turn with cielo 1., a more melancholic affair which begins with nostalgia and ends with the (quiet) rapture.
We’re not sure how it works (we have one on order), but The Wave Epoch piqued our interest with its promise of “playable artwork.” The first single is populated with beats and breath, and we have high hopes for the rest of this project, arriving on January 15 from Haroon Mirza / Jack Jelfs.
For the second time, Martin Gore finds himself in instrumental Mode, as the five-track ape-inspired EP The Third Chimpanzee will be released on January 29. We’re not sure what we think about it, because even though we’re an instrumental site, we grew up listening to his voice (Mute). ATOM™ returns with the groove and glitch-happy 0.9 EP on February 12, including a Peter van Hoesen remix (Raster). Silicone invents and visits a fictional island on Ilha Malebranche, and in the process answers the question, “What would you bring to a desert island?” The answer: a remixer! The sci-fi EP is out January 22 on HUMAN. The “space cowboy” sounds of one-man-band Elko B. populate Realm of Rides & Romance, which is just as likely to veer toward organ and guitar as it is to Casio (Ekster, January 18).
NOTON’s new signee is Saele Valese, who debuts with IVIC on February 5, preceded by the light glitch of first single You Cannot See Me From Where I Look At Myself 4. OOH-Sounds extends a solid run of glitch/IDM releases with Holy Similaun‘s intricate Ansatz. This futuristic effort is sure to appeal to Aphex Twin fans (January 17). Being is back with a new series of synthetic excursions enhanced by jungle rhythms. Broxburn Funk is released January 8 on Firecracker Recordings. Polyrhythms, microtonal scales and gleeful drum ‘n’ bass meet on Sevish‘s Plot Hole, released on New Year’s Day, while IDM, techno, breakbeat and ambience share space on Gacha Bakradze‘s diverse Obscure Languages (Lapsus, January 22). Not to be outdone, Ramallah’s Muqata’a offers Persian samples, breakbeat and deep bass on Kamil Manqus, a unique blend that seems removed from time and space (February 5).
Cristian Vogel‘s The Rebirth of Wonky tackles 2020’s disparate themes head-on, filtering them through a techno sensibility. The album will be released on the artist’s own Endless Process on February 4. We were immediately drawn to el nino diablo‘s Shadowplay EP by its cover art, courtesy of Tobias Jacobsen. And then we heard the hypnotic techno tracks and were hooked. The EP will be released on the artist’s own eldiablomusic on January 15. Skryptöm Records will celebrate its 50th release with a remix album, tracing its sound across the years. Gathering Generations is out January 15, billed under the artist name Electric Rescue and Friends.
Giant Swan is set to move bodies with the Do Not Be Afraid of Tenderness 12″, due February 19 from KECK. The propulsive single “Silkworm” includes vocal samples and the sound of sneakers on gym floors. Pounding techno is the hallmark of See Red, a new split EP from Monrella / JK Flesh (Mick Harris/Justin Broadwick). This brutal assault is released January 18 on Avalanche Recordings.
The Harder Stuff
Refectori‘s Tundra may start with glacial drone, but soon topples into hard beats. The album reflects not only the isolation of the colder regions, but feelings of oppression and danger (Hedonistic Reversal, January 28). The Winter LP from precenphix is billed as “a soundtrack for being shut in.” Industrial-strength stormers are balanced by ambient interludes, like the calms between storms (Not Yet Remembered, January 15). Horror movies and folk music influence Lutto Lento‘s dark Legendo, an exploration into forbidden realms via dub and bass, fittingly released on Haunter Records. “Horned Heart” even includes church bells, rain, birds and a lapping brook (February 5). We’ve already experienced the industrial strength sounds of Selm on the Sin / Brett single, and now we’re confident that the full album Tiiier / Post-Adrenaline will be a stormer (Opal Tapes, January 22). For more solid industrial music, we’ve been turning to Errorgrid Records, which has already announced two upcoming releases. DFANIKS‘ Save the Robots sounds exactly like its title: a Skynet showdown in a metallic factory (January 7). This will be followed by a compilation of all-new tracks, titled GRIDWORKS 1: Tension // Release, the first in an ongoing series (February 5).
Distorted beats, dissonance and warped pop collide on the C.A.N.V.A.S. compilation Apocope, which includes some vocals but thoroughly resists singalongs. The album comes across like the pop chart of a dangerous alternative universe (February 12). There’s only one vocal track on Traka‘s Start Taking Note EP (thanks to Killa P), but the entire 12″ reflects Belgrade’s urban disenchantment with heavy beats and bass (Yuku, January 5). Paàl asks some friends along for the ride on Soothing Sounds for a Cultured Affair, though the definition of “soothing” is greatly expanded here. (Midnight Shift, January 15). And Faceshuttle, the first single from ZoZo’s Simulations of Self, begins with a new age guru sessions but turns midway to rapid-fire beats and abrasive vocals, pouring out anger and beauty in equal measure (January 14).