ACL 2022 ~ Top Ten Electronic

Is it unfeeling to dance when the world seems to be falling apart? Or is the communal mingling of bodies essential to one’s well-being?  The albums on this list were composed in a time of relative isolation, yet look to a time of connection.  These artists mix dance beats with reflective passages, redefining the phrase deep cuts.  Some found the compositional process to be therapeutic; the effect may extend to the listeners.

A special congratulations to Loraine James, who is found twice on this list in different guises.  Together, the artists on this list are indeed building something beautiful, a sonic quilt of patterns and textures. As Orbit sang in 1983 (and Sonny & Cher before them), the beat goes on.

Caterina Barbieri ~ Spirit Exit (Light-years)
An outside that is only achievable through the excess of reason. A simulation of the absolute that is yet to be formulated, and whose path implies the rigorous ecstasy of (computerized) pilgrimage, the discipline of a thoroughly ‘technologized’ humanity. Using vocals for the first time, this music often exploits the parallel qualities of organ and synth, suggesting sacral undertones without becoming a mass, developing songs that attempt to lay a bridge towards that outside. The sci-fi soundtrack reminiscences are not really a nostalgic fancy, working instead like a mystic scholar’s framework, an old tome that intuitively holds the answers sought, the unmediated connection. That’s why Spirit Exit feels intempestive, but not old or like something you’ve heard before. It feels like a path toward something both deeply ancient and futuristic, the point at which the universe will someday bend over upon itself. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Daniel Avery ~ Ultra Truth (Mute)
When he announced Ultra Truth back in May, Daniel Avery described his mindset when creating the album as ‘looking into the darkness, not running away from it.’ Avery faces down the darkness with a collective of guest voices – chosen to provide an additional texture rather than a dance diva’s wail – and a set of old-skool breaks and beats. And he succeeds; the prevalent mood is that of contrasting electronic euphoria and introspection, whisking the crowd into a frenzy one moment and then easing the pace down gently on the next track. Avery’s most complete work since Drone Logic. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Gold Panda ~ The Work (City Slang)
Gold Panda’s latest release was six years in the making, and the artist’s growth over those six years shines through. At its core, The Work is about self care, and the album reflects a feeling of a certain serenity that can only emerge after a period of tumultuous hardship. It’s easy listening, falling into the vein of lo-fi, but a subtle Japanese influence and the occasional fast-paced dance track make this record more engaging than a typical ~chill beats~ playlist. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

Hüma Utku ~ The Psychologist (Editions Mego)
The Psychologist is dark, dangerous and industrial, a powerful statement that draws upon Jung and Gestalt psychology, diving deep into the psyche to identify the rawest and purest of emotions.  After this, the rest is up to the listener.  Are the waters one hears the river of Lethe?  Shall one embrace one’s dark side, or attempt to purge it?  Should the subconscious stay undisturbed, or may it be a source of healing?  If dark music frees us, is it really light?  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Jilk ~ Haunted Bedrooms (Castles in Space)
“Haunted” usually implies a sort of unwanted deathly presence, but Haunted Bedrooms points to the truly horrifying absences inherent to human life. Absences of company, of freedom, and of vitality make themselves felt on this album– which is itself not lacking in any way, sonically or otherwise. Each track brims with unique textures, gliding between lonely acoustic instrumentals and heavy glitch, and forming beautiful and evocative soundscapes in unlikely ways. Jilk’s latest is genuinely a pleasure to listen to, as such doing its part to relieve in its listeners the very afflictions to which it alludes. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

Katarina Gryvul ~ Tysha (Standard Deviation)
Silence (Tysha) does not exist, not even in dreams, writes the Ukrainian poet Marjana Savka in “Organs of Sense”. And so it goes that lured by the promise of solace from the white noise of life, the listener quickly loses their way into a dark and hybrid forest of strings and glitch. There are no straight lines in Tysha, bells and harps go toroidal like nighttime moths circling fluorescent lights. Gone is the narrative arc of Katarina Gryvul’s debut album Inside the Creatures, which spoke of illocality with compelling confidence in spite of the whirling goblins. Here, a sense of emptiness sets in. There’s a void at the core of Tysha. Strained growls, fractured beats, and broken chords, allow for disquiet to seep in from a world of decay and ruin. While Gryvul’s voice retains the same bewitching power, it now acts as a magnetic force pulling towards the abyss. Ultimately, Tysha plays like the soundtrack to mind circuits attempting to rewire themselves, or hearts that fall out of sync when striving to beat in time. There may be upheaval, but the silver lining to uprootedness is that understanding can only come from  distance. (Gianmarco Del Re)

Original Article (This Bandcamp Friday, Support the Music of Ukraine)

Loraine James ~ Building Something Beautiful for Me (Phantom Limb)
What is James building? Known mostly for producing club-adjacent electronica, here she presents us a musical genealogy, a deep-dive connection with the great Julius Eastman. The transformation of the US artist’s subtly abrasive compositions into a wide array of electronic pieces – slow, slightly uptempo, contemplative, and more – speaks of life inside and yet at the margin of a cultural epicenter (New York then, London now). Two times and places brimming with musical innovation, two times and places where superb artists fall through the gaps due to structural racism and classism, two times and places where the only stable thing for them is the knowledge of a hidden history, of a sudden juxtaposition of marginalized contexts. This is James’ architecture, and it shines across time. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Rachika Nayar ~ Heaven Come Crashing (NNA Tapes)
As we noted in our original album review, guitarist and electronic musician Rachika Nayar’s Heaven Come Crashing is unabashedly cinematic, and gloriously so. From the opening track’s pronounced sense of wide-eyed openness to the second track, “Tetramorph’s” mesmeric journey from transcendent minimalism to blistering post-rock, to “Death & Limerence’s” gentle guitar melody, to “Nausea’s” blistering soundscape and euphoric conclusion, the album lends itself easily to a range of musical associations and narratives. Not shy in its embrace of sentimentality, or its exploration of music’s ability to sculpt emotional peaks and valleys, Heaven Comes Crashing recovers the drama in a range of instruments and a range of genres, comfortable in both melodic excess and swooning simplicity. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Rival Consoles ~ Now Is (Erased Tapes)
It’s notable when an artist releases a new album after a long hiatus. Fans may be eager to see how an artistic trajectory has shifted over time. Equally notable is the opposite. Rival Consoles has released three full length LPs in the last three years. Now Is marks a more upbeat change in tone from earlier releases– a welcome reminder of how quickly people and art can develop during transformative times. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

Whatever the Weather ~ S/T (Ghostly International)
What better album to end the year than one which embodies the range of weather throughout a calendar year? Each Whatever the Weather title is a temperature value (though this London artist’s range bottoms out at a lukewarm 0°C, while some of the rest of us should be so lucky). Speaking of range, the best quality of Loraine James’ debut as Whatever the Weather is its broad variety. Some tracks are dominated by soft piano while others are percussive electronic, and none of them are misses, showcasing the artist’s versatile skillset. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

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