I had a slightly strained relationship with albums in 2016. Aside from the fact I rarely had the time for listening to them enough to do them justice, I also began to suspect that some of the artists cooking up long players didn’t quite have the chops to provide enough interest across a larger format. There was also the fact that as the levels of self importance began to swell to a new high so did the pricing of many of the records. If I’m going to shell out 40 notes for an album it had damn well better wake me up in the morning with a cup of coffee and the weather forecast.
Even so, electronica’s burgeoning love for the fat format is beginning to move into new territory, taking the scene further and further away from its traditonal, comfortable 12″ homestead. While there are obviously going to be albums which are little more than greatest hits, or consist of a couple of good tracks and some filler linked together by nothing more important than their proximity to each other on the wax, there are more producers who are looking beyond the traditional more than ever before. Konx Om Pax and Dont DJ both took a hold of this; Konx Om Pax’s Caramel (Planet Mu) creating a tapestry of blurred images and strangely angled sounds held together with fractured memories of rave, and Don’t DJ’s Musique Acephale (Berceuse Heroique) building a world of shifting polyrhythms and ethereal eastern textures. Don’t DJ had a natural bedfellow of sorts in Eomac, whose Bedouin Trax LP (Bedouin Records) started with similar themes but darkened it with thunder and heavy skies.
Some of the big names delivered too. Omar S brought us The Best!(FXHE), and while you couldn’t really say he broke any new ground, he punched up a collection of house and techno so thick with grooves you’d need to borrow an extra pair of legs to dance to it. Demdike Stare smashed our brains with Wonderland (Modern Love), as dense a slab of disorienting sound as you’d imagine, but one punctured by barely controlled beats, and powered by sinewy junglist limbs.
Finally, Convextion’s 2845 (A.R.T.Less) brought out the pack hunter feel in many techno heads after it appeared on a Discogs listing with no fanfare. While the record didn’t quite live up to the hunger it created it was still a masterclass in the sort of deep, crystalline cosmic funk that is slowly passing into history, particularly in the way it echoed long gone Detroitisms of Sci-fi and Soul. The fact that the space ship on the cover looked exactly like a Cobra Mk3 from Elite probably did a number on us too.
Without further ado, here are a bunch of album I particularly liked this year. No real order, no favourites. Have at them:
Mgun – Gentium (Don’t Be Afraid)
Even though Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel seem to hog all the limelight when discussion turns to Detroit young guns, it’s Mgun who continues to really impress with some of the most twisted and individual techno of the last few years. I don’t know why he has never quite picked up the praise he should be getting but Gentium should have sealed the deal. It’s an album in which Detroit’s post industrial future rubs shoulders with the town’ peerless musical heritage; tough and gritty, implosive, and yet lightened by graceful touches of melody and unexpected bursts of fun. Gentium kicked against Detroit’s currently signature house sound to provide an unexpected and welcome soundtrack to journeys through the back streets.
Steven Julien – Fallen (Apron)
While Steven Julien’s label Apron had a very good year, its crowning moment was still his own album Fallen. Beginning life as a concept album with the subject being a fallen angel, it sparked away from the stinging, low riding acid of his better known Funkineven work to create something that took in funk, jazz, house, techno and stuff that probably doesn’t have a name, and tempered it all with his unique swagger and tones. Very few albums this year blended ambitious experimentalism with precision functionality to this extent, and none did it better. Haunting, unsettling, beautiful and quite bluntly malicious.
Heinrich Mueller/The Exaltics – Project STS 31 Spiralgalaxie (Solar One)
Although electro continues to thrive on the 12″ format, there have been a few albums cropping up over the year. Project STS 31 Spiralgalaxie, a collaboration of sorts between electro legend Gerald Donald under his Heinrich Mueller (and other) guise and veterans The Exalted to create a sort of electro super group LP. The results are every bit as amazing as you would expect as it blasts away into deepest space to explore the very edge of what electro is. Although the out-and-out machine grooves are kept in check, it replaces them with glimpses of xeno-vistas which linger in the mind long after the music has finished. Not just a fine example of what modern electro can so, but a definition of everything that electronic music is supposed to mean.
Pangaea – In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)
Kevin McAuley has created some magical movement over the last ten years as he’s moved through the various genres which litter the British electronic landscape like sentient machines. He’s now reached that point where we can begin to think of him as a sort of elder statesman of the scene, and its entirely fitting he’s now delivered the record of his career so far with In Drum Play, an album that takes in everything that is good about Brit electronica while moulding it to Pangaea’s singular vision. Less obviously experimental than some of the other records on this list, it goes about its business with a fearsome dedication to its own sound and conjures up some of the sleekest, hardest funk around and colouring everything with the grainy light of daybreak raves.
Microlith – Dance With Me (CPU)
I’ll be up front about this: I didn’t go for Dance With Me when I first heard it. It seemed too wistful, too prone to a type of early 80’s synthiness that leaves me cold. The problem is that I am an idiot and I slowly found myself returning to it after I fell in love with the gorgeously wide-eyed title track. It is, in fact, a beautifully downbeat collection of playful, lazy and smiling grace which has made the clouds its playground. This is electro coupling with IDM to create something which represents the best of both. Anyone still sneering about electro’s abstract nature should buy this now and bask in its resolutely organic glow, and marvel at the way it creates grooves out of gossamer mists.