If the past few years are any indication, the album format has been on the rise in electronic music. This wasn’t always the case, as EPs had long dominated the landscapes of all its subgenres at least tangentially related to the dance floor. That still holds true today, but there’s definitely been a recent tendency of artists turning to the LP as a means of branching out and experimenting with their sound, and 2017 has been no exception. As a result, these past three months have already provided us with an array of stellar electronic albums. Below, I’ll cover some of my personal favorites.
Turinn – 18 ½ Minute Gaps
What better way to start than with an album that offers something for electronic music enthusiasts of every kind? For a release that displays such a mastery of the craft, it surprised me to learn that 18 ½ Minute Gaps is Turinn’s debut, especially since it landed on Manchester’s Modern Love – a label known to stick to its core artists. The two are a perfect match, though, as Turinn’s jack-of-all-trades approach to genre experimentation combined with a consistently recognizable aesthetic is right at home with label mainstays Andy Stott and Demdike Stare.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say there’s as many genres covered on here as there are tracks, with the transitions between them being often jarring, yet always logical. The dizzying drill ‘n’ bass of “Spawn”, for example, is immediately offset by “Petrichor”, a slowburner that’s all eerie pads and submerged vocal samples. “1625” achieves a similar kind of balance all on its own, its lush synths juxtaposed against a stuttering beat to yield what sounds like deep house with anxiety issues. Elsewhere, there’s industrial techno on “Elba”, Aphex Twin-esque IDM on “Ondine”, and hip-hop a la Los Angeles-era Flying Lotus on “Parratactico”. All these tracks have little in common beyond a heavy usage of breakbeats and an atmosphere of unease, achieved in part via the murky production style. But that’s exactly what makes this a Modern Love release through and through.
Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism
Where 18 ½ Minute Gaps is experimental while maintaining an accessible exterior, ambient/drone veteran Lawrence English‘s new opus is exactly the opposite. Taking its title from a Lauren Berlant book of the same name, Cruel Optimism is drenched in a bleak outlook on modern society that’s reinforced by its soundscapes of impenetrable gloom, but weirdly enough, the destination it arrives at is an uplifting one. I say destination because this is one of those albums that truly feel like a journey, on which fans of Tim Hecker and the like will be eager to hop along for the ride. As such, the album all but demands to be listened from start to finish, since taking any given song out of context just works to its detriment. Take “Hammering A Screw”, for instance: on its own, it’s little more than a minute and a half of noisy melodrama; nested right after the aptly titled “The Quietest Shore”, however, it represents a pivotal shift in tone and makes for one of the album’s most cathartic moments.
Thankfully, sitting through Cruel Optimism in its entirety isn’t that hard an ordeal. At 39 minutes, this is a somewhat short album for its kind that still offers a lot of depth musically as well as emotionally. No less is to be expected of English considering his career, on top of a list of guest contributors that includes Thor Harris and Norman Westberg of Swans fame. Cruel Optimism is thus a solid gateway for anyone looking to dip their feet into the genre, all the while being immensely enjoyable for seasoned fans.
Kangding Ray – Hyper Opal Mantis
Techno is the subgenre of electronic music I follow the closest, so there were quite a few other albums I was considering to include here. In the end, though, none of them have stood out for me as much as Hyper Opal Mantis did. One of the reasons for this is that it’s a concept album – a rare sight in the genre, though by now common practice for its creator David Letellier, aka Kangding Ray. The album is split into three segments based on “three states of desire”: Hyper, Opal and Mantis, which is represented by the ebb and flow of each track in a given segment. Even if this wasn’t the case, however, the album would stand head and shoulders above its competition solely on the merits of its song quality. So many of the songs on here succeed at being simultaneously dark, heavy, energetic, and melodic. Better yet, Letellier is able to accomplish this with a pretty limited sonic palette, consisting of the kind of oscillating synths and analogue drum programming he’s used to death throughout his career. It’s a testament to his craft, then, that he still manages to sound so otherworldly.
Talaboman – The Night Land
After trudging through an endless expanse of gray, I felt it was fitting to end on a more colorful note. Cover arts aside, The Night Land is a vibrant album bristling with color in more ways than one. It’s the first collaborative full-length of Axel Boman and John Talabot, two already well-established purveyors of house music. As such, the album feels like a collage of various house styles, as well as all the genres that have held an influence over it. Kicking off with the heavily psychedelic tribal rhythms of “Midnattssol,” the album just gets quirkier from there. Over the course of eight songs, Talaboman dabble in afro funk, latin, kosmische and more. Their melodic sensibilities are what truly leads the way, equally evident on slower tracks like “Brutal Chugga-Chugga” as on more frantic ones like “The Ghosts Hood.” Hell, you can even squeeze a post-rock tune out of “Safe Changes” if you try, its sunny chords reminiscent of sleepmakeswaves and all.
It would be pointless to directly compare all four of these albums as, despite falling under the umbrella of electronic music, in some cases they are worlds apart. Looking purely at which one fits the current Spring season best, though, I’d be hard-pressed not to say that The Night Land is the clear victor.