It's been a great year for electronic music-making. From artists like Skrillex and Fred again.. using modern production techniques to reimagine pop music to boundary-pushing experimentalists such as Lee Gamble taking advantage of the year's advancements in AI, there's creativity and innovation everywhere you look.
So much creativity, in fact, that compiling a list of only ten releases has been no mean feat. Here we present a selection of ten of the year's most impressive, imaginative and innovative electronic albums and tracks, in no particular order. If you're looking for inspiration for your next project, this would be a great place to start.
Oneohtrix Point Never - Again
Daniel Lopatin’s come a long way in the 15 years since his debut: this is a man who’s gone from releasing unnerving vaporwave synthscapes on obscure indie labels to executive producing The Weeknd’s platinum-selling, multi-billion-streaming Dawn FM.
It’s quite a feat to crack the mainstream while staying true to an experimental vision, but this is a balance the producer better known as Oneohtrix Point Never has struck masterfully as his somewhat unlikely star has soared, not only through his solo work but scores for critically lauded films and collaborations with Charli XCX, Arca, Rosalía, Nine Inch Nails and more.
Again, Lopatin’s latest and tenth studio album, is said to represent a dialogue with the 41-year-old artist’s younger self, channelling musical influences from young adulthood (post-rock, shoegaze, modern classical) into strange and dissonant worlds populated with sweeping strings, shredded guitars and AI-generated voices. These flourishes and left-turns act as ornamentation for the meat of the record, which as ever, is Lopatin’s unearthly gift for working with synthesisers.
No matter what else he folds into his expansive sound, this remains the most arresting aspect of any Oneohtrix project: the dizzying array of fractured timbres he can coax from his instruments and his talent for making these sing as one in meaningful arrangements that alloy beauty and grandeur with oddness and surrealism.
Tirzah - Trip9love... ???
Over the 10 years since she released her debut EP, London vocalist Tirzah has maintained a consistently fruitful creative partnership with old school friend and producer Mica Levi. Tirzah’s restrained and evocative vocals make for the perfect pairing with Levi’s rough-around-the-edges beatmaking, and that’s never been more the case on their latest, and best, collaboration.
The beats throughout Trip9love...??? come coated in hiss and distortion, broken piano loops fighting for space with blown out kick drums and fragile, metallic hats. It’s testament to the skill of the music-makers involved that it doesn’t sound like a chaotic mess or drown out Tirzah’s often delicate vocal lines; it takes real skill to create music this finely balanced that also feels off-the-cuff.
Interestingly, the same piano sounds and drum machine patterns appear multiple times across the 11 tracks, each time treated with a subtly different tone of distortion or tuned ever so slightly differently, making the album feel like variations on a theme – openers F22 and Promises, for example, use almost identical beats but settle on surprisingly different moods.
These repetitions are punctuated by beatless or more freeform tracks, which include some of the album highlights, particularly the warped piano ballad Their Love. As a whole, Trip9love...??? is arguably the most challenging album the pair have created, but also their most rewarding.
Barker - Unfixed
Berlin-based producer Sam Barker’s 2019 album Utility was distinctive for presenting a propulsive take on techno while completely eschewing one of the genre’s staple sounds – the kick.
For his latest EP, Barker has flipped the concept on its head, creating four tracks primarily built from synthesis tools usually reserved for kick design. Sonically, this is less obviously conceptual – while the four tracks here are rooted in thumping, kick-like percussion, you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the concept without being told in advance.
The results are just as creative, though. Birmingham Screwdriver is a high-energy mass of distorted modular stutters, while highlight Percussive Maintenance builds from a skittish beat into a lush, reverberating soundscape.
Toumba - Petals
Club trailblazers and storied electronic label Hessle Audio broadened their horizons this year with the release of Petals, a four-track EP from Jordanian producer Toumba. Typically for Hessle, it’s boundary-pushing bass music that subverts expectations. The EP explores elements drawn from the Middle East, fusing Levantine microtonality and rhythms with the framework of contemporary club music.
Opener Istibtan is our pick of the bunch, delivering what’s described as a club-ready take on a traditional Jordanian wedding song. Outfitted with formidable sub pressure, the track’s centred on a sinuous accordion riff and crisp, detailed percussion lines that spiral around each other in serpentine coils of rhythm and melody. Now there’s a wedding we’d like to go to.
Skrillex, Flowdan & Fred Again - Rumble
Produced in collaboration with perpetually cheerful, Maschine-wielding producer of the moment Fred Again, Skrillex’s Rumble is a lean, mean and minimal hybrid of trap and dubstep that’s all about that bass and that vocal: everything else is just window dressing. Props must be given to Flowdan here, who evidently has a virtuosic grasp of what it takes to transform a hefty instrumental into something that’ll absolutely destroy a dancefloor.
Inevitable comparisons must be drawn to The Bug’s Skeng – another Flowdan-featuring, half-time club weapon – but where the former leaned into the murky, smoked-out vibes of dub music, Rumble takes cues from the dopamine rush of EDM, surrounding Flowdan’s cocksure bars with pitched-up vocals and precise sound design.
Holly Waxwing - The New Pastoral
A delirious adventure in sound design, Holly Waxwing’s The New Pastoral is one of the best – and weirdest – things we’ve heard all year. Delightfully difficult to categorise, Waxwing’s music could be described as bubblegum IDM: frenzied patchworks of staccato rhythms are populated with a catalogue of sugar-coated, ear-pleasing sonics that sound as if the producer’s flicking through the sickest preset bank you’ve ever heard at lightning speed.
The album finds an ideal home on PC Music, a label known for marrying the timbres of cheesy ’90s pop and trance with a gleefully unconventional approach to electronica. Waxwing works in this tradition while remaining bracingly unique: the record’s most suitable comparison would be artists who themselves stubbornly resist comparison. It’s a project to be filed next to Iglooghost, Visible Cloaks and Proc Fiskal, producers that orient the power of computer-based music-making towards creating something that nobody else could have imagined.
At its core, The New Pastoral is a synth record: one can only imagine the hours of focused knob-twiddling that went into sculpting the dizzying collection of plucks, zaps, hits, stabs, bleeps and bloops that make up its capricious palette of sounds. Tracks like Meridians and Softcorners invite us listeners on a kind of sonic safari, opening up a compendium of timbres fine-tuned to tickle the brain’s deepest ASMR pleasure centres.
But for all its complexity, the music is oddly heartwarming, and playful in its experimentalism: it may be daring and strange, but it’s a bit of fun, too. Giving us the best of both worlds, The New Pastoral places itself in a world of its own.
Clark - Sus Dog
Anything new from Chris Clark is a must-listen: over ten albums and two decades, he’s made a name for himself as one of the most gifted artists in modern electronic music. No surprises, then, that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is a fan. Yorke acted as ‘executive producer’ for Clark’s latest album, and though he sings on Medicine, it’s actually Clark’s vocals that are the draw here.
Drummer, programmer and synth wizard, Clark’s not known for singing on his own material, and Sus Dog is his first album to centre on his own voice. It’s a bold move, but one he pulls off magnificently, and his wavering, reedy croon forms such an apposite foil to his crunchy, fractured beats and uneasy synth lines, you wonder why he didn’t do this earlier.
Lee Gamble - Models
The pros and cons of AI tech continues to be one of music-making’s hottest topics, but in all the debates around the legitimacy and dangers of AI, it can be easy to lose sight of the creative applications and how it actually fits into the landscape of music itself. Over the past couple of years, however, a handful of particularly creative artists such as patten and Holly Herndon have helped demonstrate how these new technologies can be powerful tools for experimental musicians.
British Hyperdub regular Lee Gamble is the latest artist to join this list. Ever a fan of subverting the basic structures of electronic music, Gamble’s latest album, Models, is largely built around synthetic voices created by feeding short sung melodies into a series of neural networks.
The results are mostly unintelligible in terms of language – the album’s press spiel likens the results to the dreamy ambience of Elizabeth Fraser or the Auto-Tuned mumbles of SoundCloud rap. Equally, the effect is often like hearing an impassioned vocal performance in a language you don’t speak; the intended emotion is impossible to miss even if the meaning is unclear.
There are times when the source material used is remarkably obvious. Xith c Spray falls into a fascinating uncanny valley, existing somewhere in the gap between being a virtual remix and deep-fake cover of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games. Gamble largely lets these voices act as the star of the show, underpinning each with a restrained, sparse concoction of vaporous synths, sampled guitars and digital reverb textures.
It’s thanks to this dexterous production that the results are often as mesmeric as they are technically interesting. Models is an album worthy of repeat listens even once the initial novelty has worn off.
Nikki Nair & Hudson Mohawke - Set The Roof
We love an unexpected collaboration. This surprise link-up sees storied Scotsman Hudson Mohawke join forces with Atlanta-based club music producer Nikki Nair. The fruit of their combined talents is Set The Roof, a three-track EP that’s said to be the first of several incoming joint efforts from the pair.
More Recently is wonky analogue techno and Demuro is a spirited tribute to French touch: we’re fans of both, but it’s the title track that’s got us hooked. Bitcrushed 2-step drums and syncopated stabs augment the dizzying sugar rush that is Tayla Parx’s vocal line, but just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, the track redoubles its assault, changing key as a looped vocal syllable careens skywards, before growling bass brings us back to earth.
Sofia Kourtesis - Madres
When Sofia Kourtesis dropped La Perla in 2021, it was clear that she was going places. Fast forward two years and it looks like the Peruvian producer has done just that, having been signed to Ninja Tune and released a magnificent debut album that captures a panoply of emotions in vivid, celebratory dance music.
Though there are bangers inside – How Music Makes You Feel Better demonstrates exactly what its title describes – it’s the record’s deeper moments that stopped us in our tracks. The tear-jerkingly wistful Vajkoczy, named after the surgeon that saved her mother’s life, floats plaintive vocals and glistening synths over a sub-heavy house beat. It's a mesmerising example of dance music’s ability to not only move our feet, but move us, too.