Best New Electronic Music

Courtesy of Flying Lotus

I remember hearing electronic music pioneer Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) interviewed and the reporter asked for his opinion about some electronic music that had just been released. He said something to the effect of, “My friends and I don’t really talk about electronic music. You just listen to it. There’s nothing really to say about it. You’re either listening to it or your not.”

That sentiment has probably been what has held the genre back. Much like the fuzack smooth jazz movement in the late 80s and early 90s, electronic music has been relegated to a few “appropriate” places: raves, designer boutiques and car commercials, to name a few.

As a result, there is a whole world of electronic music for most people to discover. I figured I’d talk briefly about some of the more hyped releases of 2010 to give the electronic layperson a better idea into the breadth of material out there.

I’ll first start with the debut by Oriol “Night and Day.” I picked up this record upon reading the review that said that it is like contemporary electronic music “cross-bre[d] with the analogue-alchemy of pioneers such as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Weather Report. Stunning.” Based on that statement alone, it should be right up my alley.

I get what Oriol is trying to do here. It’s a mash up of 70s and 80s electric instruments and complex chords at a very relaxing pace and tempo. However, the problem with an album like this is that it walks the line between Barry White vocal beds and P. Diddy yachting music. It’s not aggressive enough to get your heart pumping and not meandering enough to have “ambient” credibility. Tracks like “Spiral” and the interlude “Fantasy For N” show the potential of what this album could have been. I eagerly await his sophomoric release. My rating: 2.5 / 5 stars.

Next up is perhaps the most hyped electronic album of 2010: Flying Lotus’s “Cosmogramma.” The hype is not unfounded — this is an incredibly solid album. When you can’t put an electronic album in exactly one category, it’s usually a good sign; that’s certainly the case here. Breakbeats, trip-hop, acid and 8-bit all get thrown into a blender and what comes out is 45- plus minutes of mesmerizing music.

The collaboration “…And The World Laughs With You” with Thom Yorke may be a sign of Flying Lotus’s indie cred, but it’s the mellow ambience of tracks like “Mmmhmm” juxtaposed with the frantic energy of “Clock Catcher” all on one record that keep this a fascinating listen. In this case, I almost feel like overanalysis will be to this album’s detriment. Listen to it with fresh ears and as little preconceived notions as possible. My rating: 4.5 / 5.

Finally, Warp Records veterans Autechre (pronounced however you want to according to them) have come out with two albums in 2010 after a lull. The more mellow and ambient of the two, “Oversteps” is the bigger stretch record for them. Chock full of frantic beats (at a low BPM), detuned instruments and rich timbre samples all help to paint a picture of what can only really be interpreted as a soundtrack of the future.

Unlike many clichéd electronic acts, the hooks here aren’t loops played over and over again in 4/4, and just layered upon each other until even the composers can’t stand it anymore. On this record, each track has an improvisational quality to it, although the subtle and devious orchestration matched with an almost clinical production value would lead you to think otherwise.

This isn’t an album for partying or relaxing. It’s an album for deep thought, reflection and fantasizing. Some of the moods evoked are very dark and disturbing, like on “qplay” and mischievous on tracks like “pt2ph8” and “Treale.”

The second half of the album has a significant drop-off in quality. Autechre would have been better off releasing the first half of the album as an EP. And since this is essentially a B-side record to their more traditional record also released this year, “Move of Ten,” this can all kind of be looked at as bonus material anyway. However, when treated as a full-length album (and priced as such), it must be reviewed that way. My rating of 3/5 shouldn’t dissuade you from its 2 or 3 moments of brilliance. As they used to say in the era of VHS tapes — rent, don’t buy. The music equivalent would be download on iTunes two or three of the tracks but don’t get the whole album, I suppose.

So while the scores for these albums are varied, I still suggest you check out all of them. Electronic music isn’t just kick/snare at 180 BPM with a corny synth and some vocals. Much like with indie music, the walls have come down and cross-collaborations between different artists and styles are widespread. Peruse the section at your local record store with an open mind and you might be pleasantly surprised.