Favourite Albums of 2015

2014 was a watershed year for the house and techno long player. It seemed as if everyone had gotten bored with the limitations of the 12″ and suddenly decided that the extra length of an album would help them tell their stories better, giving them the space to develop ideas without having to worry so much about the incessant need of the dance floor. Not every album was a cracker, not every album wanted to do much more than stick a bunch of unrelated tracks in the same package, but there were some real stand outs, some real gems, and some important releases.

This year has felt a quieter one for albums but a quick glance at Discogs shows the hunger for long players hasn’t yet been sated, so perhaps it’s just me who found less I was interested in byuying. Even so there was some top class work to be picked up. As ever this isn’t a list of The Best Album Of 2015, but rather a list of the ones I enjoyed the most chosen from those I’ve heard.

Special mentions go to Helena Hauf’s Discrete Desires, an EBM infused stormer that sounded as if it had been produced by a Kraftwerk hailing from the wrong side of the Autobahn, and Paranoid London’s eponymous long play debut which brought Phuture’s raw acid jack up to date with an extra dose of deep, slightly creepy grooves. Santiago Salazar delivered some proper, old style, rolling Detroit techno into play with Chicanismo and flavoured it with house stabs and latin soul. Xoxar’s debut LP for Opal Tapes offshoot Black Opal confirmed to anyone who was interested that the imprint was serious about uniting the occasionally obtuse electronica of the parent label with a far more sophisticated dance floor approach while TTT and Plan B alumnus DJ Spider dropped Upon The Gates Of The Great Depth on us, a firebomb which blended heaving, claustrophobic techno with a house flair, touches of warped discoid funk and brutal noise. Lastly, a proper shout out to Levon Vincent, whose debut LP upped his reputation for sweet, submerged yet gritty grooves no end. Extra kudos for Mr. Vincent as he released the entire thing on MP3 for free on the internet ahead of the vinyl release.

VA – Mac-Talla Nan Creag (Firecracker Recordings)

The big album from Firecracker this year may have been their sumptuous reissue of LNRDCroy’s Much Less Normal, but the real diamond was this work of utterly captivating beauty by a collection of Scottish producers including Lord Of The Isles and House Of Traps. Approached by the Forestry Commission to create a record which captured something of the feel and spirit of various locations in Scotland, the label went ahead and delivered a tightly curated work which blends contemporary electronics with far more traditional and folk elements. The result is simply beguiling – evocatively accenting the weight of history and the passage of time on an incredibly ancient and haunting landscape, and the memories of the peoples who have vanished from it. Every track transports you somewhere new, but mentions go to the heart-rending paean Where The Corries Hold The Snow, and the simple yet other-worldly Cup And Ring Cycle. I wish to God I’d bought the vinyl edition.

Jamal Moss – My Gherkin Life Volume 3 (Gherkin Tracks)

Jamal Moss has drawn an occasional comment this year over the idea that his release policy sometimes resembles that of a man throwing every he has against a wall and seeing what sticks. You can’t doubt that he has an output which rivals that of several entire labels put together, but it’s easy to forget that his hit rate is pretty high too. My Gherkin Life Volume 3 was released virtually unheralded as a limited edition CDr a few months back and reveals a more focussed, less experimental side to his work; Each of the eight tracks are dancefloor bombs first and foremost. Grounded in 4/4, textured by articulate drumming and shimmering with hypnotic synths, Gherkin Tracks works over acid, Detroit and harder techno with Moss’ inate sense of tone and frequency, and holds off some of his more chaotic elements even as he allows his unique talents free rein. His most disciplined and funky release this year, and probably all the better for it.

214 – North Bend (Shipwrec)

There is a noticeable lack of electro from my album purchases this year, which is a real shame as there are few genres better suited to experimentation over a longer format. Regardless of why that might be the case, Chris Roman’s 214 project delivered more than enough proof that electro can really kick out when given the space. North Bend brings some quite stunning deep space grooves planet side and takes a scalpel to them before splicing in Drexciyan DNA and touches borrowed from the northern European scene. While there are one or two moments which feel a little bit like ‘ambient interlude’ filler, the big track like La Proxima Manana or Windon Earle roll with hypnotic power and clever delicacy. Tune of choice is Pickles and Mints which swaps the rest of the albums wintry beauty for something grittier, looser and malicious.

Abdulla Rashim – A Sense Of Speed (Northern Electronics)

As with ‘deep house’, the concept of ‘deep techno’ has suffered over the last couple of years and seems to have been used to describe anything from tech-house blurters all the way up to the tragi-comic industrialised end of the spectrum, while taking in plenty of boring, careful, by-the-numbers tunes as it went. Abdulla Rashim’s Northern Electronics label has made concerted attempts to reclaim deep techno over the last couple of years, and A Sense Of Speed fits right into this re-imagining. While the tunes on this remain hard and driving, they do so whilst conjuring up glittering and very alien sonic worlds. Grand vistas glanced through fractal lenses temper the instinctual momentum and allow mesmerising grooves to emerge through the studio trickery. A Sense Of Speed maintains its grasp no matter what depths the atmosphere reaches, never alighting too long on a particular mood without bringing something shadowy and almost unseen along to screw with you. A case in point is the slowly growing sense of dread and uncertainty that riddles Scania Flood. Deep techno, not boring techno. And that’s the difference.

Container – LP (Spectrum Spools)

OK, I lied. I did have a favourite album this year. It’s this, LP by Container. It may have been a few months since I reviewed it but I’m still blown away every time I hear it. As techno albums go it might be quite far out there. A collection of raw as all hell drum jams occasionally interspersed by stuff that only superficially resembles anything that anyone else is doing, LP was a tight blast of regulated fury that owed as much to hardcore punk rock and no wave as it did to anything that came out of Chicago or Detroit. Hell, it owed more. In fact, if you squint a bit it’s possible to see what those genres might have grown into if they had retained their sense of adventure and experimentalism instead of treading water and fanning their own increasingly conservative snobbery. There is a lesson there, and don’t think for a moment it doesn’t apply to house or techno. An absolute beast of a record. Do not be without.