For the past several years I’ve done a good/bad/ugly breakdown. I’m just sticking with “good” for the most part, since I don’t really spend time listening to stuff I find “bad” and frankly I think we’ve all had enough of ugly.
Best EP I was involved With:
Klack – Do You Klack
Matt and I decided to return to our roots and make the sort of music that got us into this mess in the first place. It’s new beat and EBM of the old school.
Call It A Comeback:
Slowdive – Slowdive
Slowdive was the shoegaziest of all the first wave shoegazer bands. Their work was marked by dreamy walls of sound and half-heard vocals. And then for some reason they tried to do an experimental album. Then they became an alt-country band. Now 20 years later, they’re back to making dreamy walls of guitars, and it’s great.
Marnie – Strange Words and Weird Wars
The lead vocalist from Ladytron releases an album that’s as catchy as Ladytron’s finest, with none of the weird navel-gazing filler that marked Ladytron’s worst instincts. It’s engaging, accessible synthpop.
I Didn’t Expect That Direction:
Starcadian – Midnight Signals
Starcadian was one of the bigger names in the rush of 80’s retro synthwave bands that hit a few years back. His neon-and-Crystal-Light aesthetic fit perfectly with the overarching look and feel of the genre. So it’s surprising that for his sophmore album, instead of notching up that sound, he made many nods to 70’s and 80’s R&B and funk. It works rather well.
Let’s Have a Talk About Bones:
Seeming – SOL
A lot has been written about this album already. It is a very layered work, with mile-deep stacks of references and influences. Goth rock, indie hip hop, funk, experimental electronics, noise, pop, all go in the sonic blender, and the result is as compelling as it is bombastic.
Sorta Slumping, But Not As Much As We Feared:
Lorde – Melodrama
Ms. Yellich-O’Connor’s second album retains her trademark vocal styles and melodies, and adds a few layers of extra bjork-like yelps and interjections, to mostly good effect. The complaint I have is that the now-ubiquitous Jack Antonoff occasionally obscures her with extra layers of sonics that her debut demonstrated weren’t necessary. As much of a stormer as “Green Light” is, it’s slightly less Lorde-y due to the extra layers of thumping beats and rave pianos. Still, tracks like “Sober” and “Liability” demonstrate that she’s lost none of her edge, and certainly displays songwriting talent that belies her young age.
Wulfband – Revolter
Purists will immediately let me know that there are plenty of Anhalt bands coming off the Familientreffen scene that do what Wulfband does better than Wulfband does it. You know what guys, I don’t care because Revolter is really damned fun. It’s full of punky teutonic energy.
(also, they’re apparently not German. But they sing in german-ish so I don’t care.)
Just When I Thought I’d Run Out Of Cure Albums:
Drab Majesty – The Demonstration
A blend of retro-pop and old-school dreampop, tracks like “39 by Design” and “Dot In The Sky” evoke classic 4AD and The Cure, with elements of Dream Academy. It wears its influences on its sleeve, mixing jangly guitars with washes of synthesizers and 80’s-fake string samples, in a way that still somehow remains fresh and interesting. It remains to be seen if they can sustain that interest in future works, but for now, it was one of my favorite albums of the year.
Kiasmos – Blurred
The electronic dance project of Icelandic soundtrack wunderkind Olafur Arnalds and Faroese electro-pop maestro Janus Rasmussen, it marries minimal, skittery house beats with Arnalds’ rich orchestrations and ambient atmospheres.
Strange Times, Strange Love
TSTI – Endings
Depeche Mode themselves couldn’t have written an album that sounds this much like Black Celebration if they’d tried. Vocals could be a bit louder though.
Holding On to a Lot Of Overdubs
Sally Dige – Holding On
Much has been made of the fact that Dige recorded the whole album with a single keyboard, but even without that process hook, this album is a pretty meaty slab of dark pop on its own merits.
A Bunch of Singles
Ionnalee – various
I can’t say I’m behind this trend of artists releasing a flurry of 1-track albums. I get short releases, sure, but…one track? Ugh. ANYWAY. The enigmatic frontwoman for iamamiwhoami released a number of them this year, and to a one they’re great electropop. The first of the bunch, “Samaritan” is the real standout.
Dark Techno and EBM
Rhys Fulber – Realism
Phase Fatale – Redeemer
Liebknecht – Produkt
Street Fever – Enchaine
This was the year I bought a lot of heavily-techno-influced EBM. This was a trend that was taking off in the late 90’s that I always thought never quite got its day in the sun, thanks to the complete dominence of futurepop. This stuff picks up where that left off, with interesting and aggressive sound design, relentless beats, and mindwarping leads.
Comaduster – Solace
The sheer ambition of the sound design on Solace is a brain-melter. Basses growl; vocal sounds twist in and out of existence; atmospheric sounds break down in a flurries of grains and reassemble themselves. All the while, Real Cardinal manages to keep the vocals in focus and tell a story.
FIRES – Red Goes Gray
Synthwave is fun, but it can be pretty one note sometimes, locked up in a mid-80’s aesthetic. FIRES upends that by marrying the de rigueur arpeggiated synths and rigid drumlines with rock voicings and deeply personal lyrics.
It’s the Only Way To Live
Gary Numan – Savage
Terrible font choices, but the godfather of synthpop gives us a heavy, atmospheric album of songs about a climate-ravaged future.
Kraftwerk – 3D – The Catalogue
Kraftwerk spends a lot of time rehashing their past. But they’re Kraftwerk, so it generally works. “3D” is a number of remakes of…well, everything, including their remakes from the 90’s. And…uh, wow. It’s a comprehensive retrospective. It sounds great.
Other Stuff I Liked:
The New Division – Precision
Golden Donna – Carousel Hold
Depeche Mode – Spirit
East Of My Youth – East Of My Youth
Mr Kitty – AI