Dec 31, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: one


Thanks for reading this albums list, if indeed you've been following it so far. I guess I now know what the week after Christmas is for. Four days of solid blogging. And it's all been leading to this: the best electronic album of 2016 according to me.

1 – Bwana – Capsule's Pride (LuckyMe)

"What the hell is this?" this album asks of itself 1 minute 32 seconds into The Colonel's Mistake, The Scientist's Regret.

It's a remix. Of a soundtrack. Of a manga classic. At number one.

Why would you use a cheesy English dub of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira movie for your remix album? Because awkward works. When the soundtrack was released on vinyl, Canadian Berliner Nathan 'Bwana' Micay shoved the whole thing through an Ableton mincer. What he produced was astonishing.

Capsule's Pride could have been a straight tribute album. A tribal Kaneda's theme set to a techno beat, perhaps. But Bwana rebuilt everything from the ground up. Things are chopped, accelerated, reverbed.

So Kaneda's theme becomes a snappy melodic pulse following its own tune. The corny "it's the cops! what shall we do?" dialogue from the bike chase scene morphs into a tense climactic moment in the addictive title track.

In one sense, this is a 1990s-infused house music album through-and-through. However, Bwana's liberal use of samples and melodic themes from an idiosyncratic source is so judiciously targeted that he builds a complete new world. A gawky world where you're never far away from someone shouting "Kaneda!" or "Ah! Ki! Ra!" to remind you where you are. It's wonderful.

This swings from ambient noir to dancefloor brilliance. I've never known the energy of manga expressed this way before. I'm not especially a fan of anime. And that's the genius of Capsule's Pride: since this was released free via a brilliant microsite (try it on your mobile), I feel I've got to know Tetsuo and his universe. I'm almost longing for World War III, dystopian governance and being ambushed by Clowns.

Speaking of which, here's to 2017. Arf! See what I did there? It's funny because it's true. Sigh.

Thanks for reading my website this year. It's been a relaunch of sorts: follow me on Twitter for more updates. I appreciate you lending me your eyes in 2016. Sorry, you're not getting them back.

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Best electronic albums of 2016: two


2 – Plaid – The Digging Remedy (Warp Records)

I was the first person to review the new Plaid album, right here on this very website. Well, sort of. It was more of a guarded comment so I didn't spoil my full review in issue 21 of Electronic Sound - in which I lauded the work having "more hooks than an angler’s tool box". Still, the Plaid chaps noticed.


Bless their, er, plaid socks. The Digging Remedy is more accessible than most of their previous 11 albums. The scratchiness is still there, as are their trademark chord sequences. You can recognise Plaid's sound a mile off. But it's smoothed out, all guitar-glistened and melodic. This is Plaid at their cheeriest, yet still, closer Wen made me well up.

To be truly understood, Plaid have to be seen live. At their Manchester gig earlier this year (pictured above), they became the absence of triangles in one of the cleverest visual set-ups I've seen for a while. As they were in the middle of their cute-as-a-button Melifer, the bloke next to me exclaimed "I didn't know they did songs like THIS."

"THIS" being an older Plaid, more thoughtful, but still willing to kick it out of the park with the towering Yu Mountain and the trippy confidence of CLOCK. This album was my companion throughout my short Edinburgh Fringe run. A proper friend. And their best album since their early days.

Stream Do Matter here.

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A final bunch of also-rans: all the way from Aa to Zomby

Before I reveal the toppest top albums atop the album top table, here are a final few names that didn't make the top 20 but are well worth a mention.

Baauer fiiiiinally dropped a debut album: Aa (LuckyMe) was full of scrunchy bangers to shake yer Harlems and much more besides. A grimier, stronger brother to that album is Skepta's Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know), with Novelist guesting on both those albums. Incidentally, this is not a hip hop list, but while we're on an MC tip, get yourself And The Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul (AOI Records).

Machinedrum bogged off to California to turn out his poppiest long-player yet, Human Energy (Ninja Tune). The rambling Callus (Warp Records) saw Gonjasufi in as psychedelic a mood as ever before. DJ Earl brought in Oneohtrix Point Never for his delightfully dizzying footwork experiment Open Your Eyes (Teklife). And Mala took in some Peruvian inspiration (and panpipes) for the bass-heavy and beguiling Mirrors (Brownswood Recordings). I was less convinced by Zomby's Ultra (Hyperdub) which seemed to float by unnoticed.

On EARS (Western Vinyl), Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith did some wonderful things with voice on an unusual and captivating album. These Hidden Hands did some weird things to my brain on the woozy and surreal Vicarious Memories (Hidden Hundred). Lakker did strange, dark things on the theme of water with Struggle & Emerge (R&S Records). And finally, Matmos did some unspeakable things to a washing machine on Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey). No really. The whole album is constructed from washing machine samples.

That's the last of the rejects. Over 100 albums mentioned... and just two to go in the final top 20 countdown. Coming up: a big number two followed by a big number one. You'll enjoy that, won't you? You disgust me.





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Dec 30, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: three


3 – Moderat – III (Monkeytown Records)

All the best things come in threes: magic numbers, Christmas ghosts, wishes, world wars. The completion of Apparat and Modeselektor’s Moderat studio album trilogy has led to their best work yet for Monkeytown: tune after tune after tune.

If III lacks the depth of II, it’s because they’ve gone for the pop hits. But what hits, so richly produced. The epic breaks of Reminder. The gleaming house of Running. The tragic melancholy of the xx-inflected The Fool. If the chart sounded like this all the time, I’d retract my Bruno Brookes comments.

Yes, it’s bombastic. Yearning. It’s the most unsubtle of the three; the one with the Ewoks. Cor, I'm really damning with faint praise here. At least I'm not still likening them to Steps. But you mark my words: the techniques that make this album so stellar will be cookie-cuttered by producers for years to come. A spellbinding listen start to finish. Three out of three.



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Best electronic albums of 2016: four


4 – Slam – Machine Cut Noise (Soma)

All Slam albums are techno, but some Slam albums are more techno than others. It’s easy to forget Slam used to be a vocal band. Cue memories of Dot Allison’s floaty vocals. Not so here. Machine Cut Noise is an insane assault of planet-sized sonic weaponry.

Each track is unrelenting in its Orwellian disregard of anything approaching humanity. There is no escape from the thundering bass drums, the ominous synths, the hissing snares. I joked in November about a Slam Tent. It’s not a tent. It’s a prison.

Yet, it’s also hypnotising. Liberating. Even exhilarating. It might be Stockholm Syndrome, but you will lose yourself in the metronomic majesty of Slam’s most impressive album yet. If you want a vision of Machine Cut Noise, imagine a bass drum stamping on your face forever. But in a good way.



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Full-on also-rans hysteria

Almost there. Here's a bunch of solid techno albums that didn't make my final list.

I didn't want to deal with old stuff, so no space in my top 20 for the newly polished-up classic Mike & Rich's Expert Knob Twiddlers (Planet Mu). That also goes for Altern 8's Full-On Mask Hysteria (Bleech) which carries the only design in the world I'd have tattooed on my face. And no space either for the hugely pleasing 1995 (Skam), an ancient Jega album found on an old tape somewhere.

Here are three names I was sad not to include, including two names in my best-of-2011. I liked the sprawling soundtrack styles of Kuedo's Slow Knife (Planet Mu). And Illum Sphere's Glass (Ninja Tune) had a kind of echoing subterranean vibe that made me want to live in a techno submarine. Meanwhile, Surgeon kicked up an evil disco with From Farthest Known Objects (Dynamic Tension).

On a lighter housier note, it may be worth looking into the airy jazz-tinged electronics of Steven Julien's Fallen (Apron Records), the '90s bleepery of A Sagittariun's Elasticity (Elastic Dreams) or how about Shinichi Atobe's World (DDS), all sprightly beats and dubby ambience.

Only one more of these 'also-rans' round-ups left while the main top 20 marches on. Who will be the number one album of 2016? Get to William Hill and place your bets now (minimum stake: 2p).





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Best electronic albums of 2016: five


5 – Ital Tek – Hollowed (Planet Mu)

The top five I'm about to list each pluck my emotions way more than anything else listed so far. Consider this lot special fried gold. Grilled silk. Battered platinum.

There’s a word I saw used in a review of Ital Tek’s fifth album: “maximalism”. That refers to a day-glo Rustie gloss in which everything is turned up to 92. I think we need a new word for Hollowed, though. Maximum ambient. "Maximbient"? "Ambimum"?

Alan ‘Ital Tek’ Myson (first mentioned here in 2008) tried to rediscover his teenage muse, when his sonic ramblings ran free and wild. As a result, Hollowed is cut from “hours of drones, loops and textures.” Crikes. All I did in my teenage years was tape the top 40. Finger on pause button, trying to cut out Bruno Brookes’s waffling.

The helicoptering Jenova, the fuzzy Clark-ish pulse of Beyond Sight, the snappy assault of Cobra: this is full of light and dark. Things build, crescendo, fall, and tear another glorious hole in your ears. But it's in those between moments, when the static hangs in the air, that the ambimum thrills most. Yeah. Maybe not "ambimum". "Ambaximent"?!



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Best electronic albums of 2016: six


6 – Ulrich Schnauss – No Further Ahead Than Today (Scripted Realities)

When I reviewed this for Electronic Sound, I used words like “sweet” and “saccharine” and “sugar”. I think Mojo likened this to being “like being dosed up with dopamine.” Too much for repeated visits, right? Yet here it is in the top 10 for 2016.

This is the Christmas cake stuck between your teeth. It’s the cheese selection sitting in your belly. It’s every sweet thing that has ever existed. Singing, chord changes, epic swell after epic swell, the perkiest keyboards under the sun. Oh my. I need a lie down.

With A Strangely Isolated Place and Goodbye behind Ulrich Schnauss, this feels like a late-career album. After all, he’s got Tangerine Dream to concentrate on now. Even more impressive then that No Further Ahead Than Today is so technicolour, so smorgasbord, so... everything. And I love it.



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Also-rans: time to kill off some more giants (sorry, Avalanches)

We're not too far from number one, so let's kill off a few more giants.

I really didn't take to The Avalanches comeback album Wildflower (XL Recordings). Way too "kooky" mainstream. And I don't know what Tricky was up to on Skilled Mechanics (False Idols). Oh dear. Let's move on.

I have endless love for Paul Hartnoll but his collaboration with Vince Clark on 2Square (Very Records) was a bit dad-pop in places. Meanwhile, Romare tend to be a little too straight down the line for me, no more so than on Love Songs: Part Two (Ninja Tune). That's also the case with Tycho, whose Epoch (Ghostly International) is as robustly satisfying as Coldplay.

Sometimes albums are great but perhaps don't fit my narrow definition of electronic albums. That goes for the much-lauded and utterly fantastic Anohni's Hopelessness (Rough Trade) and for Jenny Hval's thoughful and engrossing Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones Records).

Finally, a couple of miscellaneous names that didn't make the final selection but are probably worth a nosey. Steve Hauschildt's new agey Strands (Kranky) and the whimsical electronic pop of Motion Graphics (Domino) by Motion Graphics. The latter has a track called Minecraft Mosaic.





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Best electronic albums of 2016: seven


7 – Babyfather – BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow (Hyperdub)

The bleak urban shadows of BBF could be overwhelming: drug dealers, police sirens, relationship breakdowns. “Trust is a luxury I can’t afford.” Oof. This is possibly the most 2016-sounding album amid our terrifying new reality of the far right, Trump, and Bake Off moving to Channel 4.

Thankfully, the execution here is excellent. It’s recorded like a pirate radio station, and is presented by DJ Escrow, a presumably fictional MC with a funny line in chatter and plenty of problems to bang on about. It has the best line about Wiley that’s not on a Wiley record.

The genius behind Babyfather seems to be Dean Blunt, the trickster who this year tried to sell cheese-filled toy cars on Ebay. It wasn’t cheese. The clue’s in his name. Whatever he’s been toking, this Union Flag-emblazoned joint is as disorienting and rewarding as they come.



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Dec 29, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: eight


8 – Acronym – Entagled In Vines (Semantica Records)

Alright, it’s an EP, but shut up, it’s my end-of-year list and you know where the door is. It’s album-y enough to be here. See this dictionary? See this shredder? I’m feeding this dictionary into this shredder and you can’t stop—dammit, the shredder’s jammed.

I don’t know an awful lot about Acronym. Swedish chap, made his name on the Northern Electronics label, now back on the label he first started with. I once complimented him on his “gloopy intensity”, which I hope he didn’t take too personally. It’s just the way he walks.

Entagled In Vines is a thuddering hypnodrone that keeps your legs endurance-dancing beyond four in the morning. It reminds me of Der Dritte Raum or Analogue Bubblebath with its bouncy acid, dithering harmonics, clockwork trance and more bouncy acid. Cracking. EP be damned.



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Also-rans: demons, Durban, WWWINGS and weapons

Mind if I dump this dark weird stuff here? Okay, thanks. Here are some strange, experimental albums that didn’t make the final cut.

For example, Elysia Crampton’s critically acclaimed Demon City (Break World Records), which was deeply unsettling in a pleasing, genre-bending way. Maybe it was all that demonic laughter she kept dropping in. No, really.

I think I called Antwood’s Virtuous.scr (Planet Mu) “throbbing innards” for Electronic Sound. But in a good way. There’s also the twisted grime of WWWINGS’s PHOENIXXX (Planet Mu). If you want sparse, try the angry Fatima Al Qadiri’s Brute (Hyperdub) or Lucy’s industrial Self Mythology (Stroboscopic Artefacts).

I’m not meant to be covering compilations, but the throbbing Durban breaks of Gqom Oh! (GQOM OH) scared the life out of me. As did the crumbling white noise of Ceramic TL’s Sign Of The Cross Every Mile To The Border (Halocline Trance). Finally, the legend that is Roly Porter was back with some classical noise on Third Law (Tri Angle), there was a mega triple bashment LP from (deep breath) Alix Perez, Chimpo, Fixate, Fracture, Om Unit, Sam Binga and Stray (phew) in the shape of Who Is Richie Brains (Exit Records).

Oh and I have to mention the debut album just out from Seattle’s Homemade Weapons. The precision-engineered Negative Space (Samurai Music) seemed to point towards something interesting and new for drum ‘n’ bass.





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Best electronic albums of 2016: nine


9 – Mark Pritchard – Under the Sun (Warp Records)

Mark Pritchard is a phenomenon. Two of the bestest modern ambient albums of all time (76:14 and Remotion), the man behind Shaft's Roobarb & Custard (yep!) and Harmonic 313, and now this stunning breakthrough– his first solo album as actual real-life Mark Pritchard.

As Under The Sun spreads its Boards of Canada and Eno-isms thinly across a neverending horizon, sometimes it seems we’re caught in a trippy Wicker Man alternative reality, all English gardens and ‘70s haze and folk songs. Space flutes. Quivering organs.

Is there anything this man can’t do? Astronauting, maybe. Fine art. Advanced haberdashery. Deep sea oil exploration. Dog surgery. I’m sure he can’t do any of these. Tennis coaching. Atom splitting. The Macarena. Speaking Welsh. Jeez, can Pritchard do ANYTHING? I mean, really.



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Best electronic albums of 2016: ten


10 – patten – Ψ (Warp Records)

Welcome to my top 10 electronic albums of 2016. Yay, we made it!

My Autechre radar first went off around patten two years ago when their last album ESTOILE NAIANT turned heads. On Ψ (psi), they’ve tightened up everything. Now it sounds like early Autechre made for the dang dancefloor. Well. Maybe the basement below the dancefloor.

Hark: the stark percussion of Sonne; the footwork claustrophobia of Blade or Epsilon; the ambient chords washing underneath Used to b, the broken melancholia of Cache, with its Nintendo bleeps trying to break through the track.

This is a refreshed patten, boosted no end by the monotone mutterings of new member A. Yep, they comprise two lettered people: he's called D, she's called A. With her vocals never far away and yet as distant as Alpha Centauri, this cold techno sounds strangely warm. Their live visuals are reportedly breaking new ground: there's evidence here that their audio is too.

Watch the video for the brilliant Sonne by clicking here.

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House music also-rans: The Field, Gold Panda, Trus'me and other things that'll make you sweat

Here are some more also-rans. A bit more of a house music flavour amid the techno this time, so four to the floor, here goes…

Just missing out on my final list is the fifth album from The Field. The Follower (Kompakt) is a splendid assembly of spiralling techno. Gold Panda is always a nice listen, so the travel-inspired Good Luck And Do Your Best (City Slang) didn’t disappoint.

I enjoyed Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald / Borderland's Transport (Tresor) for two reasons: firstly, its unwavering commitment to solid house music, and secondly because I managed to shoehorn a C+C Music Factory reference into an Electronic Sound review of them earlier this year.

I enjoyed his debut Workshop 19, so it was a welcome return for abstract technoist Kassem Mosse with Disclosure (Honest Jon's Records). Meanwhile, Matt Karmil released two albums of note: the dubby IDLE033 (Idle Hands) followed by the throbbing gritty house of ++++ (PNN). I preferred the latter. The dark, spacey Planet 4 (Prime Numbers) by Manchester’s own Trus'me is worth a look in too.

House Of Dad’s House Of Dad (House Of Dad) samples a toilet flush and has a loo seat on the cover. It’s much better than it sounds, honest. Finally, there were the deep, otherworldly rhythms of Dorisburg’s Irrbloss (Hivern Discs), and, for those with a bit of time on their hands, you should check out Prince Of Denmark’s magical and engaging 23-track 8 (Forum) if you can find anywhere selling it.





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Best electronic albums of 2016: eleven


11 – Autechre – elseq 1-5 (Warp Records)

The godfathers of difficult techno Autechre could not be outdone by Aphex Twin, who’s been vomming out tracks like a cat in the hairball Olympics. So here we are: a mega five-album release to top Autechre’s 129-minute Exai from 2013. Quantity is now king.

Even when they sounded nice, Autechre were awkward: for example, track seven on their 1994 album Amber is called Nine. So while this is unlikely to return X Factor to its long-lost Christmas number one dominance (PLEASE enter X Factor, Autechre), once you hook into Ae's advanced noise, so much makes sense.

elseq is quite quaffable. c16 deep tread is hip hop covered in floor fluff. The slow-paced pendulu casual is Massive Attack caught in the middle of a sneeze. The resonating harmonics of the 24-minute mesh cinereaL are Mariah Carey in a faulty tumble dryer. Difficult? No. A development. And a Rochdale duo at the top of their game.

Stream the album here.

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Best electronic albums of 2016: twelve


12 – Lone – Levitate (R&S Records)

“I’d try to go to sleep and I’d be hearing these mad rave tunes form in my head,” said Matt ‘Lone’ Cutler of the fever that inspired his second album for R&S. Echoes of Aphex Twin’s apocryphal lucid dreaming stories?

In any case, this lush technoist has turned hardcore. Levitate is his junglist hymn to Good Looking Records and Goldie, to the softer end of Stu Allen warehouse raves, to a time when clubbing was easy, messy and devoid of big name brands maxing out the price of a pint. I can smell the sun-drenched weed between the beats.

I get the impression he doesn’t spend long in the studio. These are quick cuts where the rhythm is locked in: more colour than depth. The junglism is a welcome twist, but the core is still the same. And as long as he holds onto the lush 808 State-isms that are on display beautifully here, Cutler will keep returning to my top album lists.



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Dec 28, 2016

Also-rans: techno tryers making all the right noises

Still awake?

Not all techno can make it into my final list: it’s the taking part that counts, right? Here are some more also-rans as we count down the best electronic music of 2016.

Maybe I should have given more time to the sonic harsh-tronics of Andy Stott’s Too Many Voices (Modern Love), him being a former chart-topper round these parts. There was also some storming techno from A Made Up Sound’s A Made Up Sound (A Made Up Sound) – band, album and label nicely uniform there. Thug Entrancer moved from footwork to acid on the likeable Arcology (Software), and JK Flesh moved my bowels with the dirty jackhammer techno of Rise Above (Electric Deluxe).

One of my most listened albums of this year was Death In Vegas’s 1997 album Dead Elvis. Which is a shame because it overshadowed his comeback album Transmission (Drone). It didn’t quite transmit enough for me.

I enjoyed the paddy techno of Roman Flügel’s All The Right Noises (Dial Records). Prolific Icelander Bjarki put out three techno collections on the Trip Label: too much for me to absorb for this list. And I liked Abstract Division’s dancefloor-ripping Contemporary Spaces (Dynamic Reflection). This was technically an EP but it felt very much album-esque. An excuse I will use again, controversially, later on in this album countdown





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Best electronic albums of 2016: thirteen


13 – Kowton – Utility (Livity Sound)

When Joe ‘Kowton’ Cowton shook off the grimier elements of his sound, he was probably going against the grain. Instead of kowtowing (see what I did there) to the bass-crushing street sound scene, he produced Utility: put simply, an album no-frills techno.

This ain’t clever: no Snares McSnareface tomfoolery here. Get a basic loop, throw in some percussion, let the machines do the work. The sound is not varied: indeed album highlight Loops 1 could be a remix of album highlight Some Cats.

But that’s the charm. It’s simple and it positively zings out of the speakers, I remember listening to Drum Club back in the day. They weren’t afraid to let a mechanical bass drum sit on its own, thwum thwum, pacing in isolation. A drum pad for the sake of a drum pad. I’m shivering just thinking about it. This, exactly this, is what draws me to Utility.



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Best electronic albums of 2016: fourteen


14 – Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)

Hello, is this Thom Yorke? I was told to call at 2pm. “Miaow.” Great. Thanks for agreeing to speak to me, Thom. And congratulations on making my top 20. “Miaow.” So kind of you to say, Thom. If you had a blog, I’d read it too. “Miaow.”

You’re in this list because Radiohead have been an electronic music band since the turn of the millennium. That time you guys rocked a Kaoss pad on the Amnesiac tour. Can you talk me through your process? “Miaow. Miiiaaaoow.” Amazing. And here we are in 2016 with one of our most listenable albums for ages. “Miaow.” No, thank YOU.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a beautiful work. Less dense somehow. There’s not much more I can say that hasn’t been said in a million column inches elsewhere, hence this phone call. “Miaow.” You keep saying miaow. Are you sure you’re Thom Yorke? “Mioaw.” And not his cat? “Puuuurrr.” Oh for flip’s sake.



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Ambient also-rans: from Panthers to Planet Earth

Ambient music never went away. It just ended up in this also-rans section of my 2016 countdown.

Just because I preferred Pye Corner Audio to Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein’s Stranger Things (Lakeshore Records), it didn’t stop that programme and its soundtrack being a glorious highlight of 2016. Alas, not in my final list though.

There are plenty more ambient works that didn’t make the top 20. COW / Chill Out, World! (Kompakt) saw The Orb at their most floaty, while Sir Brian of Eno spiced up a Velvet Undeground cover with the voice of Peter Serafinowicz on The Ship (Warp Records). Yes, you read that right.

Clark’s The Last Panthers (Warp Records) seemed dark and interesting, but it was soundtracking a TV series I hadn’t seen. Brooklyn’s Julianna Barwick spooked us with Will (Dead Oceans), clearly taking some of her inspiration from Oneohtrix Point Never.

Digging down into the experimental bucket, I have three final ambient works to mention. Norway’s greatest export Biosphere used Ukrainian and Polish folk music on Departed Glories (Smalltown Supersound). Black Merlin trekked to some far off places for the field recordings on Hipnotik Tradisi (Island Of The Gods). And Crotaphytus’s Acanthosaura (Further Records) came across as some kind of ketamine Planet Earth.





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Best electronic albums of 2016: fifteen


15 – Pye Corner Audio – Stasis (Ghost Box)

The Stasis artwork contained quotes from Ursula K Le Guin and Arthur C Clarke. This is perhaps a red herring, because this isn’t a blast to some robot-led future with cars made out of physics and that. Nope. This is a whoosh into the past. 

Mr Pye, as I’m now going to call Martin Jenkins, is an utter synth-head. That love for old gear shines on this album – and indeed in his other alias Head Technician. He takes his inspiration from John Carpenter; from the kind of horror films that have informed electronic music for years.

The fact that Adam Curtis uses Mr Pye’s music in his documentaries didn’t swing this for me. Nor the fact he supported Mogwai. Nope. Stasis is here because it’s what the Stranger Things soundtrack could have been. It’s that much of a whoosh into the past. And it sounds great.


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Best electronic albums of 2016: sixteen


16 – James Blake – The Colour In Anything (Universal Music)

The curse of the Mercury Prize. You know how it goes. Whoever wins is confined to a cellar for the rest of their career, never to be seen again. This is James Blake’s first album since he bagged the award in 2013. Uh oh. Down you go, Blakey, into the darkness.

Getting a more famous Blake to do his cover of The Colour In Anything was a smart move. Yep, this is work of Quentin. Although James still sounds like an adorably sulky teenager, he's fattened up his sound. He even worked with Rick ‘Def Jam’ Rubin on the production.

Which is the key, really, It’s never all about the voice for me. Listen to the urgent ringing alarm that slices Radio Silence (listen below) in two. The shattered shakes of Modern Soul’s percussion. The fuzzed brass of Timeless. There’s more going on with post-Mercury Blakey. If he is confined to a cellar of obscurity, he’s sure making a lot of lovely sound.


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Best electronic albums of 2016: big-name also-rans

Here are more people that didn't reach my final list.

If you spot holes in this top 20, that’s because some big names are missing. For example, you won’t find Katy B’s Honey (Rinse Recordings) because my usual listen-holes weren't streaming it. Or how about DJ Shadow’s The Mountain Will Fall (Mass Appeal), absent for an entirely different reason. That reason being: a snoozesome meh.

It was a shame not to include Loop the Loop (DEEK) by Bullion with its slices of scrumptious melody. Same for Bibio’s A Mineral Love (Warp Records) who are sounding more than ever like the BeeGees. I also appreciated The Gamble (R&S Records), an addictive noodly number from nonkeen.

And finally some miscellaneous treats for this particular also-rans section – yep, more of these to come. Have a listen to the retro techno disco of Prins Thomas’s Principe Del Norte (Smalltown Supersound), the playful electro of Letherette’s Last Night On The Planet (Ninja Tune), the post-punky Sport (XL Recordings) by Powell, and the one-off pop oddity that is Nicolas Jaar's Sirens (Other People).

There you go. Something for your noise receptors. More to come as the top 20 contines.





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Best electronic albums of 2016: seventeen


17 – Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music (Timesig)

She married a chess computer in the end. No, you haven’t walked into the middle of a conversation: that’s my favourite track title from the latest album from the chaotic king of drill ‘n’ bass. Cue joke about “check mating” for life. Getting caught on pawn sites. Bashing bishops?

Snares used modular synthesis to record Traditional Synthesizer Music. That’s where you patch together a bunch of units, wires draped everywhere like spaghetti Mechano. The track below will give you an idea of what that looks like. There he is, smoking away. Bless.

Snares McSnareface has let it all hang out, mostly. The album may meander a little, but it’s surprisingly listenable and is perhaps closer to his Last Step alias. The beats are as clattery as ever. And, of course, you can’t vote for yourself. Yep. You guessed it. Another track title.



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Dec 27, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: eighteen


18 – Logan Takahashi – NoGeo (Ghostly International)

There’s something Aphexian about the nostalgia of Takahashi. And nostalgia it is: the title is partly a throwback to an old Japanese games console. Which is good because the album sounds like a bunch of awkward party-goers in the kitchen of an Atari.

Speaking of awkward, you’ve not seen me use a dual controller, have you? I learned gaming with Spectrums and the original Playstation. With a dual controller, my avatars crash into walls and walk on people’s faces. That’s why people like me listen to music like this.

Much of the album was made from an Elektron Monomachine, a synthesis unit as plain as a fuse box. From the opening analogue funk to the strangled closing hi-hats, NoGeo turns minimalism into drama. NoGeo? YES-geo, amiright?!



Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2016: house music also-rans

Here’s a handful of house music artists that didn’t make the top 20.

I enjoyed the dialled-back mechanics of Factory Floor’s 25 25 (DFA Records), while in contrast there was soul aplenty amid the religious zeal of Floorplan’s Victorious (M-Plant). Surely, Floorplan’s Robert Hood was an influence on Bookworms’ warming Xenophobe (BANK Records NYC).

Pantha Du Prince made his comeback on The Triad (Rough Trade), with all the tinkling electronics you’d expect. The horrendously-named Convextion made techno feel spacey on 2845 (a.r.t.less). Meanwhile, the co-founder of Hessle Audio released the sparky In Drum Play under the name Pangaea on his own label – and did a good job of it.

 Top Japanese DJ Fumiya Tanaka appeared after a long album absence with You Find The Key (Perlon): he kept the jazzier elements under control, unlike Kornél Kovács’ The Bells (Studio Barnhus). Sorry, Korny, a little too corny. And there was an old-school feel to Omar S’s Detroitian The Best! (FXHE Records). Honestly, Mr S, you can’t call your album The Best and expect to be in the top 20. It didn't work for Tina Turner and it won't work for you.

More commendable house music also-rans later on in this top 20.





Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2016: nineteen


19 – Solar Bears – Advancement (Sunday Best)

Polar bears. Solar Bears. Geddit? The biggest disappointment of this album is that Solar Bears are two Irish guys, not actually two white bears sweating on a hot beach. A clear flout of trades descriptions. Which reminds me, I’ve got a bone to pick with Gold Panda.

Advancement is power-driven four-by-four electronica; so widescreen, it requires an Imax ticket. I was concerned that the calculated production may have drained the album’s energy, but this is a work I’ve come back to again and again.

It’s meant to be about nature or something, but as I said in a previous Electronic Sound magazine, it’s “more Chris Hadfield than Chris Packham”. It’s a galactic-sized beat treat. Boards Of Canada in space. Amon Tobin on Titan. Unkle on Uranus.



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Best electronic albums of 2016: twenty


20 – The Range – Potential (Domino)

Got some bars? James Hinton’s evocative Potential is one of two albums in this top 20 that sheds light on urban unease. He plundered audio from YouTube like a low-bitrate Snowden, then polished the roughness to produce pieces that are not only pleasing to the lug-holes: they’re also strangely familiar.

Familiar because there’s nothing ground-breaking here. He’s toured with Chvrches, which should give you an idea of the melody at play. This is solid soundtrack stuff. The BBC should, in turn, be plundering this for trailer music.

But this is also familiar because Potential is built from the stories of YouTube creators. People sat in rooms or knocking round in parks broadcasting to 17 subscribers and hoping for something greater. That gloriously human element nudges this into the top 20 electronic albums of 2016.



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Best electronic albums of 2016: an introduction

Welcome to my end of year list. The only one that matters. That's right... it's time for the ugliest pandas of 2016.

No, wait.

It's time for my top best favouritest electronic albums of 2016. This is my annual countdown of the long-players that have lured my earlobes throughout this most lurid of years. And although I probably write with some authority on the subject having scrawled many words about this kind of gubbins, I guess I should give some disclaimers.

Firstly, this list is not definitive. I've expanded it to a top 20 this year, and there will be another 90-or-so albums that will get the slightest of mentions. That's a lot of mentions. But I looked in an encyclopedia which said there were 32 billion albums released every day in 2016, so I'm going to miss stuff.

Secondly, I'll get things wrong. Opinion is not a static state. I look back on my previous lists (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009) and curse the day Vengaboys didn't win every single one. I may even edit these blog posts in the days to come. Just drop in a jpeg of the Vengabus or something.

Thirdly, I've missed out compilations. Sorry, Objekt (Kern Vol 3), the immense #savefabric or Houndstooth's impressive Tessellations.

I'm also not bothered about things in the charts that much, even though I've actually bought real life actual concert tickets for Take That, Kylie and Clean Bandit in the past. But as far as this blog goes, I'm looking through a narrow funnel. Literally.

Disclaimers done. I will slowly unfurl the top 20 over the next few days. Follow me on Twitter, where I'll welcome your responses and mentions. If you like a blog post, stick a link on your timeline - that's why I do this: to get more people listening to good noises. The number one album of 2016, which brightened up my year no end, will be revealed at noon on New Year's Eve.

I lied, of course. Pandas aren't ugly. It's your mind that's ugly for even thinking I was serious. Psyche.

You'll see this link at the bottom of all the posts. It may come in useful: Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Dec 26, 2016

Meemo & Mu have tunes for Christmas, Easter and Pancake Tuesday




Get your face around this Soundcloud shizzle.

This Meemo & Mu show is labelled as a Christmas broadcast but it's a straightforward avalanche of ice cold music brilliance. You can probably listen to it at any time of year. Even Whit Sunday.

It's co-hosted by Lara Rix-Martin from Objects Ltd and Mike Paradinas from the Planet Mu label. They also release tunes as Heterotic (pictured), but they've been good and not packed this with their own tunes.

Good job, really. I mean, who would use promotion of other people's work to plug their own stuff? That's selfish, right? Only narcissistic people do that. On a, er, totally unconnected note, I'd just like to report that the Hey Fat Roland podcast has been delayed by a new job and will return after the new year. Search 'hey fat roland' now on your podcast app and subscribe in time for the relaunch.

Ahem. Sorry.

Back to Meemo & Mu. There are some real talents in this mix: Fatima Al Qadiri, Antwood, Eva, Teengirl Fantasy, Hieroglyphic Being, Mr Mitch and Jlin. It's also a useful prompt for me to dig more into the relatively new Objects Ltd.




Further Fats: All bound for Mu Mu land (2006)

Further Fats: Hey Fat Roland podcast

Dec 24, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016? You betcha. Sorry, Troy...


I didn't want to insert the full Troy gif because of blog loading times, so here's a crappy screenshot of an animated gif to announce:

My end-of-year albums list is back.

I've listened to everything this past couple of months. Music. Laughter. Dogs. Drains. Supernovae. Attack ships off the coast of Formby. I've then chafed that down to a dog-eared top 20 best electronic albums of 2016.

Yep. Top 20. I've doubled my list.

It'll all happen between noon on Tuesday and noon on New Year's Eve. Plenty of blog words to enjoy over your Christmas break. In the meantime, your homework is to peruse my previous lists: there are several best electronic album pages here.

Dec 22, 2016

Breaking: Kraftwerk legend has important message about Electronic Sound


Ex-Kraftwerker and Mouse On Mars-collaborator Wolfgang Flür has a message for you.

I want more of this. I want my news read by electronic music stars. Breaking news by Jean-Michel Jarre. Political analysis by Delia Derbyshire. Weather by Hardfloor.

If you want to own part of Electronic Sound magazine, click here.

Dec 19, 2016

There's one thing I've noticed about Battlestar Galactica...

...it's full of whooshing. Things whoosh here. Things whoosh there. Someone needs to sample these dope rad sounds before the cyborgs attack us with x-wings or whatever the heck this programme is about. Whoosh!




Further Fats: Should X Factor fans face execution? (2009)

Further Fats: Massive Attack sampled a sewer designer? This must be Massive Samples then (2009)

Dec 16, 2016

Gold Panda is almost the best panda of 2016


Anyone who has seen me live this year will know I bang on about pandas a lot. Baby pandas, sad pandas, confused pandas, future pandas.

So it's strange that I'd forgotten that Gold Panda had a new album out. Mr Panda, as I like to call him, released Good Luck And Do Your Best after collecting noises and images with photographer Laura Lewis in Japan. The title comes from well-wishing farewell from a taxi driver in Hiroshima.

This skippy little number called Chiba Nights tickles the ears good and proper. The album's mixed by Luke Abbott too, so this makes it almost my favourite panda of 2016.

Sorry, Mr Panda. Future panda beat you to it.



Further Fats: Luke Abbott's Drones: not so atonal now (2010)

Further Fats: A complete guide to the 2012 Mercury music prize nominations - contains a panda (2012)

Dec 13, 2016

Listen to Coldcut's comeback single Only Heaven and try not to picture me naked


You remember Coldcut's Autumn Leaves, right? That delicate vocal, the huge orchestra, the ambient remix. As soon as I heard it all those years ago, I ran naked onto the streets, frolicking beneath the trees, kicking up a storm of foliage in the shadow of the branches as the breeze hardened my nipples to bullets. You did that too, right? The Coldcut song? It made you do that too, right?

No?

Sigh. Coldcut are back after a decade of silence, so this brand new single is muh-assive news. I'm going through a Roots Manuva phase at the moment, so his appearance is very welcome. This is called Only Heaven, which means I'm derobing and prancing off to the pearly gates right this instant. Gonna kick me some angels.

Here's the track. It's got Thundercat on bass. Enjoy.



Further Fats: Merry Pissmas - contains further thoughts about trees (2006)

Further Fats: Magnetic Man's impending chart success is more exciting than electrocuted nipples - contains further thoughts about nipples (2010)

Dec 6, 2016

Telefon Tel Aviv's debut album - you remember 2001, right?


Nice to see that Telefon Tel Aviv‘s debut album Fahrenheit Fair Enough has been rereleased. They're touring again despite the sad loss of Charles Tel Aviv.

They appeared in my best albums of 2009, However, this particular album dates to 2001, when we all loved nu metal, ring tones, Tony Blair, water features, Westlife, Chandler's sarcasm, leg warmers, Chopper bikes, gramophones, penny farthings, the Black Death, arrowing kings in the eye, discovering fire with twigs, the big bang, and the alien lizards that ruled everything before this universe was created.

Or was that 2002?

Anyways, welcome back, that old debut album. Get your ears around this pristine IDM.



Further Fats: Bleep Years day thirteen - Aphex Twin's Avril 14th(2012)

Further Fats: A new old thing from Jon Hopkins - Cold Out There (2016)

Dec 2, 2016

Flashback Fats: A hundred blinking goths


You know when you see an old photo of yourself and gasp at the horrendous mustard sweater you somehow once treasured?

A similar thing happens when I look at old blog posts. This blog has been going a long time - but I wish I could erase some old posts from history.

Actually, I could erase them. There's a button for that.

But it's more entertaining to rake over them in a new feature I call Flashback Fats. It might be some posts aren't so bad, but are still worth the bloggy equivalent of a DVD commentary. Let's start with my grand introduction to a damp squib...

Flashback Fats: A hundred blinking goths, Jabba goes J-Ho, and sodden notes drying on radiators (2008)

This May 2008 blog post was a way of talking about my biggest embarrassments without the pain of having to go into any detail. You can see the original, but I have included much of its text here in italics.
"There are many things I should have resisted. An invitation to Ara, Manchester's leading goth night. I arrive dressed in white. A hundred six-foot black and purple people, some of them dressed as crows, don sunglasses."
Indeed, my mate is still running that goth night. And yes, I did dress in white. Although I feel a natural connection with 'alternative' cultures, I'm not gothy. I might dress in black, but I'd happily live in a day-glo world in bright sunlight. If I was a vampire, I'd have been dust a long time ago.

I go on to mention a number of trivial disasters. The "record company showcase" where I spilled MC Tunes's pint did indeed feature All Saints a long time before they were packaged for final launch. And yes, I bought the Kooks album.
"What was I thinking? It makes me sick to even think of it. I gave the CD away in a tombola at my 33-and-a-third birthday bash."
That bash was nearly ten years ago. It was my 33 and a third birthday party, with all sorts of themes relating to thirds. We had a tombola with 33.33 prizes (the fractional prize being part of a chocolate bar).

"Getting my ears pierced in a strange attempt to cure a throbbing hangover." This was when I was trying to be trendy and Afflecks Palace-y. My traditional androgynophobic boss at the time nearly fired me.

"Sledging with £1,300 in my back pockets." Yep. Actually happened. A long line of £50 notes drying on radiators.
"There are many things I should have resisted. However, there is one thing I have resisted, but should have given in to quite some time ago. Yes. I am finally on Last FM."
And that's the point of that blog post. Didn't see that coming, did you. All those amazing anecdotes curtailed because I just wanted to tell people I was on Last FM.

What's next? Withholding the punchline of a joke until I've given you my MySpace URL? Dangling tasty sausages in your face as a lure to Snapchat? Bellydancing for Bebo?

I still have no idea why I bought that Kooks album.

Nov 30, 2016

Hey Fat Roland extra: Rubbish Outtakes


My podcast listeners have been camped outside Fats Towers waiting for a new episode for weeks. Igloo tents, marquees, bivouacs, the whole works.

I've been concentrating on having a new job instead. I will get back to Hey Fat Roland podcasting soon, honest. 

In the meantime, here is a modest selection of what modern people call "bloopers" but what I call "bits I scraped from the floor of the editing studio that my pet iguana missed when hoovering up because it lied on its CV about its ability to operate household machinery".

Nov 27, 2016

Don't be rattled: it's just drum 'n' bass


In a Salford pub yesterday, as I leant against a snoozing cat (pictured), I was reminiscing about the moment I discovered the full beauty of drum 'n' bass.

It was at Tribal Gathering in a tent dense with dry ice. It was like walking into a shisha pipe, only with a sillhouette of an MC rising out of the cloud. I'd got a load of vinyl, but it was the first time I'd seen "liquid beats" (ugh) in a live setting.

Here's a remix of LTJ Bukem's classic track Music. It's just a clip (full version here), but this is the kind of loveliness I walked into.



For those not used to this kind of drum 'n' bass, you need to get over the busy-ness of the beat. It is, after all, running at 175BPM which is enough to leave your rattled bones scattered over the dancefloor. Let the loop become one. And then lose yourself in the chords swirling around the centre.

Despite the likes of Rudimental hooking up with Ed Sheeran to bring a clunkier - yet still entertaining - form of this music to the Hozier generation, the genre has stayed pleasantly underground. Yeah, there was that Olive track a generation ago, and that woman totally addicted to bass. But really...

But the smoky, airy Bukem stuff remains fairly pure. And, when done well, absolutely one of the most liberating styles of music alongside acid house.

A particular favourite of mine was Big Bud. a regular on Progression Sessions and someone whose sound seemed to cut a little deeper. Listen to High Times below.

I like cats. I like drum 'n' bass. Maybe there's a corrolation between the weed-hazed jungle ambience and a domesticated jungle cat that sleeps 22 hours a day.

Maybe this, and exactly this, is what cats hear in their head all the time.



Further Fats: Bleep Years day nineteen - LTJ Bukem's Horizons (2012) 

Further Fats: The precarious future of Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud (2016)

Nov 18, 2016

What's happening with the not-so-current current album chart?


It's 2016. We have flying cars and chutes that feed us breakfast. Money is made of gas. We are so in the future, it's ridiculous.

Why then, dear reader, does the current album chart look like this?



Robbie Williams. Elvis. Bon Jovi. Michael Ball. Michael Buble. Michael flipping Buble.

They aren't even the most successful Michaels. They're eclipsed by Jackson and George. But it's not that which riles me.

It's 2016, not 1927. These five folks date back to the time we used pagers for social reasons. Back to the time dial-up internet meant you had to write to Readers Digest to request your ration of bytes. Back when we brushed our teeth with chimney sweep brushes. If you could afford teeth.

Alright, old fogeys probably sell better in the lead-up to Christmas. No record company's going to risk losing the next new thing in the swamp of seasonal sales. I bet the best-selling things in pound shops right now are carriage clocks, denture glue and snuff.

But there's definitely a domination of physical product here. Boil the chart down to just streams, and instead the top five is Drake, James Arthur, Justin Biebpipe, Ed Sheeran and Kanye. Much fresher blood. So what we're seeing in the current album chart are strong old-school Adele-style sales of supermarket CDs.

In short, streaming is dead, old people are alive, and Michael Buble is definitely not the most successful Michael in town.

I wish the chutes thing was true.

Further Fats: Here is the latest pop chart, apparently (2014)