Saturday, January 02, 2021

Best Of 2020: Electronic

Electronic music comes in many flavors and sometimes it's as much about the attitude as the instruments used. But one thing all the albums below have in common is the presence of synthetic sounds or treated instruments. My Top 25 included five albums that could slot in here (Molly Joyce, Matt Evans, Nnux, Miro Shot, and Yaeji), but there were a number of others that transported me, which I have detailed below. Let them take you places.

A few of these were included in previous posts - links to those will come first, followed by new reviews.

Hear tracks from these albums here or below.

Of Note In 2020: Electronic

Roger Eno & Brian Eno - Mixing Colors (also check out Film Music: 1976-2020)
Seabuckthorn - Through A Vulnerable Occur (also check out Other, Other)
Beatrice Dillon - Workaround

Daniel Wohl - Project Blue Book Soundtrack This show, a UFO procedural on The History Channel, has ended, but Wohl's expertly crafted and evocative music lives on in this tightly assembled soundtrack album. While the emotional depths of Corps Exquis or Etat are only hinted at, Wohl's burnished textures and subtle structures are put to excellent use. 

Oneohtrix Point Never - Magic Oneohtrix Point Never I'm not sure if Daniel Lopatin, who performs as OPN, reached a new level of feeling on his soundtrack for Uncut Gems or if a key turned in me, giving new access to his music, but this new album is similarly dazzling. One main difference is the presence of hopeful and even upbeat sounds, as opposed to the unremitting (and wonderful) grimness of Uncut Gems. His use of unexpected sonic juxtapositions and overlays puts him in the class of master bricoleurs, giving us soundscapes both adventurous and assured. I'm now looking forward to investigating the last decade or more of ONP albums to see what I missed the first time around!

Various Artists - Music From SEAMUS, Vol. 3 and Vol. 23 These archival releases from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States are consistently fascinating, whether it's the mutating piano on Larry Nelson's Order And Alliance (1991) from the first or Chester Udell's assemblage of metallic and white noises on Steel Golem (2011-12) from the second. And how cool to see Switch~Ensemble crop up here, in a recording of Christopher Chandler's Smoke And Mirrors from 2013, a gorgeous miniature of enhanced chamber music.

Mary Lattimore - Silver Ladders This is an album to sink into, as Lattimore's harp loops and echoes, like ripples on a pond, enhanced by delicate touches of guitar and synth from Slowdive's Neil Halstead. File under: Balm for the soul.

Corntuth - Music To Work To There's some of the simplicity and cockeyed optimism of Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds For Baby in these 13 tracks "written on the fly on a 1983 Yamaha DX7 and run through a Yamaha R100," but also unexpected moments of drama and a melodic sense straight from pop music. A-009 even brings a touch of soul to the experience. Whether you choose to have this delightful collection accompany your work or a strenuous session of cloud gazing is up to you, but I think you'll find it equally appropriate to either occasion.

Epic 45 - We Were Never Here There were always ambient touches to their gorgeous future-folk songs, never more so than on their masterpiece, Weathering, which was both in my Best Of 11 and 100 Best Albums Of The 2010's. On this lush album, they go all in - no words and few beats - and have arrived at their best since Weathering, with only a hint of the 80's tinniness that has crept into their work of late. Listen carefully and it may lead you down a hall of memories you forgot you had.

Emily A. Sprague - Hill, Flower, Fog Like Epic 45, Sprague is a very good songwriter (work she releases as Florist), who also pushes into ambient electronics, and this may be her best yet in that field, with much of the tuneful charm of her song-based work. As the title suggests, engagement with nature is an inspiration for her work so if your quarantine has you missing the outside world, put up the video for Star Gazing on the biggest screen in your house and revel in imagery and sound.

Glass Salt - Greetings There's a sense of intuitive collage to these tracks by Caylie Staples and Johann Diedrick, with voices set alongside synth sounds and unidentified percussive noises. There's a gentleness here, too, perhaps a product of what appears to be a seamless collaboration, something to which we can all aspire. Yet another great release from Whatever's Clever!

Sofie Birch - Hidden Terraces and Behind Her Name Chestnuts Fall Forever On these three long tracks, Birch combines piano, field recordings, and electronics in what feel like films for the mind. The way she imperceptibly moves from section to section in each piece gives you a sense of a firm structural hand even as you lose yourself in the languor.

Michael Grigoni & Steven Vitiello - Slow Machines A shimmering combination of Grigoni's luminous work for stringed instruments of all sorts and Vitiello's enhancements, including synths, field recordings, etc. Vitiello is an old college friend and usually plies his trade more in the realms of installation-based sound art so I'm thrilled to have this cogent and supremely listenable album to enjoy at home - and share with you.

Ian William Craig & Daniel Lentz - Frkwys Vol. 16: In A Word Collaborating with pianist Lentz seems to have brought new subtlety to Craig's signature glitched and chopped vocals. Contemplative, but with an edge.

Nils Frahm - Tripping With Nils Frahm Aside from one or two overly sentimental solo piano moments, this is genuinely thrilling - in a quiet way - as Frahm builds up his hypnotic electro-acoustic tracks in front of a rapturous live audience. Get closer to the experience by watching the documentary film.

Narducci - El Viejo Soundtrack Matthew Silberman, who records as Narducci, shows great skill with texture and dynamics, drawing you through the narrative of this documentary about athlete Thom Ortiz. Narducci has been busy this year - he also released a soundtrack for another documentary, Until the Day Someone Puts Me in a Coffin, about Brazilian Ju Jitsu, and a single called Ancient Dialogue, an intriguing blend of sampled Inuit singing and electronics with a true ceremonial flair. I could do with more of that combination, but instead I'll just put the video on repeat and go tripping with Narducci.

Taylor Brook - Apperceptions Composer Brook shows a very different, but no less innovative, side of himself here than on the cutting edge chamber music of Ecstatic Music, his 2016 album with Tak Ensemble. Featuring improvisations for his electric guitar and an "audio-corpus-based AI improviser" he designed, these tracks are full of sinuous melodic lines and chords that feel lit from within, gently growing more complex as the computer takes up the themes and provides its own variations. Should the singularity ever occur, I hope Brook and his software collaborator are on hand to provide the soundtrack.

Adam CuthbĂ©rt & Daniel Rhode - Greet The World Every Morning With Curiosity And Hope The title of this latest from the modular masters of Slashsound says it all for this perfect blend of burnished tones and cautiously optimistic vibes. And what better way to start the new year?

For similar noises, check into this archive playlist with much more where these came from and follow the 2021 playlist to see what this year brings!

You may also enjoy:
Best of 2019: Electronic
Best of 2018: Electronic
Best of 2017: Electronic
Best of 2016: Electronic

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