Oh god, this is the first thing I've posted here since June. :| Uh... hey, guys. How's it going? Good? Great! I've been busy. Really busy. I'm in the final semester of my program and it's fucking killing us. Fortunately, it's winter break (5 weeks!) and though I've spent some of it sick, I also have been writing/making stuff for end-year listings. Hooray!
I've been meaning to do this for a while now but haven't because, previous to this year, my library has been lacking in the variety required for this. I'd find it a little shortsighted to compose a top 10 list if all I listened to was 10 albums and all of them were electro/dubstep. Alas, this year has brought many changes, some better than others, and one of them is that I've expanded my taste in music by leaps and bounds. It's made for an incredible year of discovery, one which I really want to share with everyone. Maybe I can introduce you to some really cool stuff, too! For each album, you'll find a Youtube vid of a song I find noteworthy on the album and a link to where you can purchase it. Have fun reading!
I originally did not want to include soundtracks on my list because OSTs work a little differently than a traditional album does. While some soundtracks can stand on their own really well, (see: Shatter’s soundtrack) the score is usually there to accompany and support a game, not to be the star of it. This year has some soundtracks I found to be really notable, so I included a few on my collective list (see: bottom of post later on) to make sure they got their due recognition.
It should probably speak some amount to how much I love the Journey soundtrack that I would place it above nearly every other album I've listened to this year. The multiple renditions of Journey’s cello theme is as beautiful a listen as you’ll have with any soundtrack this year, and the closing theme’s vocals will haunt you in the most profound way. The feeling will resonate so much more if you have played the game but even if you have not, the closing tracks of the soundtrack will bring emotion in you unlike anything else you could listen to this year.
That it is the best soundtrack this year in gaming alone is worth as much praise as it can get. That it can stand alone as a beautiful composition of music despite being an original score... that’s something special, and something I find to be incredibly deserving of the spot it’s at.
You can purchase the Journey Soundtrack digitally through iTunes for the fucking bargain-theft price of $4.99.
I cannot express how happy I am that my most anticipated album of the year turned out to be every bit as awesome as I expected it to be. I found out about Caster through Reddit, where one of the two band members posted their first ever track on r/electronicmusic. I rarely listen to self-posts on there because most people’s work is, well, average at best. It’s cool they’re trying but you can only hear so many FL Studio stems before you start to lose it.
That said, Caster’s post of “Wayward Youth” had a ton of upvotes and comments, despite the “this is our first track” title. Curiosity made me check it out and, like the rest of the community, I was absolutely floored. It was good. Really good. With that one track, I was excited at the prospect of a full album and, three months later, it is here.
The arid, atmospheric tracks on Caster have a texture and sound unlike anything else I've heard this year. The dark, electronic, low-frequency-filled melodies of the album are what I was missing from other artists in the electronic/idm genre this year and I couldn't be happier to have found it in the debut of two very obviously talented musicians.
You can download Caster's debut album at a pay-what-you-want rate (with no minimum) on their official Bandcamp. For the love of Christ, do so.
Here's an album where I feel slightly conflicted with in a way that doesn’t really affect how terrific it is. Army of Mushrooms is significantly more reserved than any other Infected Mushroom album before it, with sounds and rhythm a bit more reminiscent of modern electronic music. The beats are more straightforward, there’s less complexity in most of the tracks, and there’s probably more hints at dubstep than one might expect or appreciate.
In the hands of others, this could have made for a potentially disastrous follow-up to a terrific line of work. Infected Mushroom has, however, made an album that’s not only a good refresh of their sound but stands out in electronic music on its own. Their previous work is a bit less approachable than Army of Mushrooms is and if you’ve ever been curious to know about the magic of psytrance at work, this is the perfect entry point for you. “Never Mind” is about as tricky as the album gets and the remake of “The Messenger” puts a new take on one of their best songs to make it a version I like infinitely more.
The speed and general intensity of the album might be a little intimidating but it’s definitely worth checking out if you never have. If you’re not accustomed to psytrance, you’ll still enjoy the energy of the album. It’s frantic and fun, if not a bit ridiculous at times. And even better? Fans of Infected Mushroom won’t be disappointed by this either. It’s a terrific follow-up and even if it does play it a little safer than older albums, it still has their mark on it. That it can pull in a new direction and please two different crowds in such a niche genre is... well, that’s pretty rad.
You can buy Army of Mushrooms for $8.99 on Amazon MP3.
Only two years coming! Supposed to be a “sequel” of sorts to Orion, she finally decided to release Electric Girl in November and... yo, it’s pretty great. It’s a bit lacking in the creativity department, but it’s a lot punchier than his previous work-- something I appreciate much more this time around.
My problem with it, though, is the same reason why I love it. It’s pretty straight-forward, meaning there are essentially no interludes whatsoever. It’s one track after another, one full of the same energy as the last. There’s little-to-no downtime in the album, which Orion and Coloris both had plenty of. It helped establish a bit of a pace throughout them, but also made the harder hits fall flatter than they should have. Electric Girl does the complete opposite, omitting interludes to give a much more energetic pace... but the composition of it feels messy because of it. There’s little structure to the album, and the lack of breathing room in it makes it feel like a mish-mash of sounds, albeit all of them being great. The individual tracks are all, really, pretty terrific. Headshot is easily one of my favorite tunes this year, but as an album, it’s a little disorganised.
Which isn’t to say I don’t like it. Like I said, the individual tracks are all terrific. It’s not some of his best work, but it’s up there. I just wish the album were a bit more structured. If it had that, it’d probably be in my top 3.
You can buy Electric Girl on Amazon MP3 for $8.91.
I’d be lying if I said how to write anything about Eighty One. It’s an album that was thrown to me saying I needed to listen to it, so I did. And I loved it. It’s a pretty album in a genre I can’t exactly say I’m fluent in. ... Seriously, I’m struggling for words, here. It’s a really nice listen, especially if you’re travelling. I tend to flip to something else if I have it on whilst working, but most of my listens with it were either on public transit or in a car, and it suits both really well. There’s an airiness to it that makes it equate more to those situations, to me.
Really, it’s kind of an impressive feat that the entire thing is composed by a single person. Despite being the softest type of electronic rock, there’s plenty of reason in Eighty One to be excited for Yppah’s next album. The quality of work here is nothing short of stunning.
You can buy Eighty One on Ninja Tune's (its label) website digitally for around $8 USD, as well as a bunch of other formats suited to your liking.
The first of two white knights in the electronic umbrella of music. When I started the list, I had originally omitted EPs from it because, well, they aren't really albums. And this was supposed to be an album list. Only even back in its original form, I still included Metropolis Pt. 1 on this list, pretty much in the same spot. If anything else, The M Machine are a clear example of why electronic music is doing just fine and will continue to do just fine, despite the sore spot it’s in right now.
What I mean by that is relatively simple. As it stands now, there are three dominant sounds in popular electronic music. 1: Your typical dubstep (or brostep, if you’re an asshole) like Skrillex, Datsik, and Knife Party. 2: Your typical complextro like Mord Fustang, Archie, and Farleon. 3: Your typical electro house like Wolfgang Gartner, Zedd, and Gemini. The problem with all three of those is that while there are still its breakouts like Feed Me, Porter Robinson, and Madeon, they stick to their respective guns and don’t explore very much, if at all. This year has been a notoriously repetitive year, with some of the brightest artists releasing middling records that recycle the same sounds and flow as their previous work. It’s tiring and it’s occurring far too frequently. It’s effectively making me loathe a genre I really, really loved.
But then in came Metropolis Pt. 1. Having formed a little over a year ago, The M Machine delivers what is the most creatively inspired release of any of the aforementioned genres. Although exploring similar territory to their peers, Metropolis Pt. 1 has a variety of freshness to the familiar sounds that I found incredibly comforting and reassuring. From the aggressive start of “Immigrants” to the wobbly end of “A Shadow in the Rose Garden”, the six-track EP feeds the need of its respective genres while bringing creativity and melody to increasingly tired ideas. It’s not perfectly executed, with the middle falling short of its start and end, but it’s easily worth the listen if, like me, you feel electro is quickly becoming a shadow of its former self.
You can purchase Metropolis Pt. 1 on iTunes for $5.99.
And in comes the second white knight! In a year where I realised I’ve officially become really fucking tired with complextro comes a complextro album that completely fucking rocks my socks. I’d be lying if I said I was expecting much out of Nhato after the bevy of average remixes he’s produced over the years. Maybe it’s the lowered expectations that’s made the its mark on me so prominent, but even still, Etude is an album well worth listening to if you’re a fan of anything electronic, aggressive, punchy, and synthy.
There’s an energy to all of the tracks on Etude that I’ve had trouble finding in any other album this year. From the start, it just fucking goes and doesn’t stop ‘till it’s over. Even in tracks like “Asuka” where the music starts to die down a bit, it immediately resumes the pace tenfold with a sound that will just refuse to let go until your feet are tapping. That energy comes in a variety of sounds, some bordering a bit more of the trancey side, especially with tracks like “Chameleonic” and “Moonquake”, but the end result is an album that will inject some of the most infectious sounds into your brain. The long-form tracks all evolve, ending in a completely different manner from which they started, opting to get you moving instead of introducing subtlety where it’s not necessary.
I can only hope all of Nhato’s future productions are as powerful as Etude is. The 10-track album is, alongside the previous list item, one of the strongest arguments in favor of electronic music’s constant evolution. The critical mass may be drowning in a sea of repetitive dubstep and sample-heavy electro house, but there’s still hope.
You can purchase Nhato's Etude album on Beatport for $9.99.
I can’t say much of 2012 has been strong for IDM to me. Either by being a little disappointing or simply not being released, the genre’s left a weird mark on this year and it’s made me have to dig a bit to find stuff to listen to. Fortunately, this is the path that led me to Kashiwa Daisuke’s Re: album.
I missed his first album, 88, (Which should also be checked out. It’s a terrific piano album.) and Re: comes as his first full IDM release. It features some re-works of older compositions (namely, the “april” tracks) and some completely original ones, and both form together to make what is the most well-composed album I’ve listened to all year. It ends with a finish just as strong as its opening, both seamlessly transitioning from piano to glitch. Everything in between is a transition from the start to the end, with the album becoming more and more complex with hints of experimenting along the way. What starts as “Jazz pour une infante defunte” ends in a much more aggressive “Ajanagar”, before coming to a close “april.#20”.
… ouf. I sound pretentious. The album is beautiful. Here’s an example of it. Go listen to it, especially if you like some glitchiness amidst your piano compositions. You won’t be disappointed.
You can purchase Re: on iTunes for $9.99.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t really much care for metal, or variations thereof. I’ve always preferred synths and plugins over actual instruments, and that preference has made it so that the severity of the instrumentation found on a metal album has always been lost on me. Who cares if it sounds heavy, right? It’s just a louder sound with dudes yelling. Whatever.
That preference is probably what made my absolute love for Epicloud even more poignant to me. It’s obviously not as intense as most other metal I could be introduced to, (which, please, don’t) but that’s not why I enjoy Epicloud. Why the album is so goddamn amazing to me is because it’s fun. It’s an absolute blast to listen to because of how it’s structured, how it’s mixed, and how it’s presented. It’s not a metal album about metal shit. It’s a metal album love, emotions, life, fear, and confidence. “True North” immediately lets you know what you’re in for, “Lucky Animals” lets you know how serious it is, and “Liberation” lets you know how loud it’s going to be. The instrumentation is not something to run home about, but it’s the presentation that makes everything with Epicloud. Every track is mixed to sound massive, like you’re listening to it on a sound stage the size of a city block next to a crowd of 300,000 people. It’s just so energetic. Every time I hear the chorus in “Grace”, I want to just jump out of my chair and yell with my hands in the air in time to the shouts.
I don’t know if I could really like anything else other in the genre, because what I love about Epicloud seems so very specific to the album itself, but I am also perfectly fine with that. I don’t know if I would want anything else to be like it, really.
You can buy Epicloud for $9.49 on Amazon MP3.
I don’t think I could have ever fathomed that I would place an album like Shrines so high up on my list, let one take the top spot. There’s an appeal to indie-like electronic music that’s never really catered to me until about halfway into this year, where I just found some albums that really clicked with me. Out of all of them, however, Purity Ring’s debut stands above the rest. The 38 minute-long album is one of the best full listens I’ve had in recent memory, with an atmosphere and sound I just can’t stop listening to. It’s a sound I could see some find a little repetitive by the end, but it doesn’t work like a regular album would to me. Instead of extending through a variety of sounds to form one cohesive listen like a regular album would, it feels like a single image to me. It’s just one that’s interpreted multiple ways throughout its run. The end of the album feels like the start, only with the distinct sense that you’ve fully examined what was presented to you. The percussion, vocals, synths... they all have a striking resemblance with one another from song to song, yet it always feels like a different and new take on what you’ve been introduced to previously. It’s... like repetitiveness done the right way? I suppose that’s what makes a full, non-stop listen to it so incredibly enjoyable.
That’s probably an awful way of describing it. Regardless, I absolutely adore it. The vocal work is masterful and it is mixed perfectly throughout its entirety. Some of its percussion work could be a bit more creative, and it has its low-points, (one track, thankfully) but Shrines is about as close to a masterpiece as I can think of for this year.
You can buy Shrines for $5.00 on Amazon MP3.
And that's my top 10! Woo! Hope you've found something interesting in there, and if not, then... eh. Wh'evs. Opinions! I'd love to hear what were your favorites of the year-- I'm always up for discovering new stuff. If you'd like a look at my actual (and relatively long with 66 items on it) list of favorite albums this year, I have a list up on RateYourMusic that you can gawk at.
Thanks for reading, and see you guys next week for really stupid game of the year stuff! :'D