Electronic-Dance

Mutant (CD)

In just a couple of years, Arca went from being a relatively unknown Venezuelan DJ to a mega producer. Producer Alejandro Ghersi has added his beautifully uncomfortable blend of noise and electronic dance to tracks by Kanye West, FKA Twigs, and Bjork, giving them a fresh and unheard modern sound. But under the nom de plume Arca, his solo projects push sonic barriers rarely taken by artists whose work often fits into comfortable parameters. As groundbreaking as Underworld, Aphex Twin, and Squarepusher were in electronic music in the '90s, Arca is today. Constantly shape-shifting and unsettling sounds reach a peak where they resemble something as grotesque and intriguing as the morphing imagery on the cover. Tackling 21st century gender fusion and politics head-on without in-your-face lyrics and overt messages, his music oozes out of your speakers and confronts you directly as its raw digital sound takes you to unexpected territories. But beyond all the strangeness and static, Mutant follows last year's Xen as some of the most exciting music coming out today. There's nothing quite like it.

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Elaenia (CD)

Though Sam Shepherd has been publicly making music since 2009, his debut under the Floating Points moniker announces a new force within the U.K. electronic music scene. Floating Points as a term perfectly describes a track like “Nespole,” whose climbing bass notes, blinking distorted digital noise and synth sheets seem to exist in empty space but slowly come into focus as a dynamic unit. The three-part “Silhouettes” moves from a mellow jazz beat and contemplative bass tones to a loungey middle portion, an explosive climax and finally a string-laden denouement with an angelic choir of voices. Throughout, Elaenia is closer to jazz than it is to traditional dubstep, seeming to rely on mood and improvisation rather than repetition or dancefloor accessibility. It’s also too varied for one particular genre label, as the slightly unsettling ambient title track moves into the analog sci-fi arpeggios of “Argente,” light throbbing shuffle of “Thin Air” and the soulful mood-piece “For Marmish.” Though Elaenia is light on easy entry points, its final track, “Peroration Six,” fuses a Radiohead-ish sense of close-noted dread with a syncopated beat Flying Lotus followers should go nuts over. Elaenia makes for heady listening, but let it in and you’ll soon become enraptured.

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Garden Of Delete (CD)

Daniel Lopatin’s second release on Warp as Oneohtrix Point Never is hell-bent on defying expectations. A song like “Ezra” begins with cut-up, recognizable motifs but becomes destroyed by diversions into heart-pounding 16-bit synth chases and vocal snippets emerging from its distorted folds. “I Bite Through It” engages in pop-rock structure yet mocks it at the same time, its sharp notes arranged neatly in sets of eight, which are broken up by a hard-hitting beat and more scenic portions, its tones varying without rhyme or reason across the song’s taut three minutes and 17 seconds. Similarly, the guttural vocals and laser-beam synths exploding out of “Sticky Drama” achieve EDM-style release even as its brutal middle portion feels insanity-inducing. But the need to step away now and then only proves the album’s power. Part of Garden of Delete’s strength is its ability to temper its dislocating sense of confusion with clear reference points that help the listener find their balance. The smoky, hollowed-out beginning of “Freaky Eyes” gives way to pipe organs, sudden swells and noises that skitter around like beetles, making it feel like a horror movie soundtrack collage. “Lift’s” disembodied vocal bits and layered piano runs feel alien but are lovely nonetheless. The more pronounced vocals on “Animals” make it easily noticeable, but it would be a standout regardless, its tones disintegrating beautifully while a pitch-shifted vocal comes in and out of static in a way not entirely different from Radiohead. Oneohtrix Point Never is an acquired taste that occasionally feels like it needs Cliff’s Notes to fully grasp. But it’s undoubtedly some of the most intelligent, forward-thinking music being made today. Those willing to take the plunge will be duly rewarded.

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Ratchet (CD)

We’ve been anxiously awaiting Shamir’s debut since hearing the Northtown EP last year, and Ratchet does not disappoint. The electronic/house artist channels a young Sylvester or Grace Jones with his androgynous vocals on spacious nu-disco tracks like “Vegas” while he slots nicely along underground stars like Azealia Banks, FKA Twigs and Big Freedia on bouncing future-pop tracks like "On the Regular." Like many of those artists, there’s more than meets the eye here—check out tracks like noir ballad "Darker" for the full breadth of Shamir’s vocals and scope.

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In Colour (CD)

Producer and member of The xx Jamie Smith has just released a game-changing debut LP. Favoring melody and atmosphere over simply having a nice beat, In Colour is able to wrangle a wide variety of sounds into a living, breathing whole. Tracks like “Gosh” layer found sounds and field recordings underneath appealing synth lines. Mellower tracks like “Sleep Sound” and “SeeSaw” are terrific after-hours jams, like passing out outside a rave and letting the beats pulse through your dreams. The xx member Oliver Sim shows up to lend his narcotic vocals to the noirish “Stranger in a Room,” while fellow xx singer Romy Madley Croft smears black mascara all over the heartbreak beat of “Loud Places,” which makes wonderful use of a sample of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” on the song’s rousing chorus. Though it’s a bit jarring to hear rapper Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan on the following track “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the song itself is a worthy hip-hop crossover that enlivens the album as a whole. It may sound cheesy, but In Colour really does prove that trip-hop, post-punk, house and hip-hop can call reside under the same roof, as Smith expertly strings these sounds together into new nocturnal anthems. It’s not too soon to call this a new electronic masterwork.

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Ibeyi [Import] (CD)

Twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz draw upon their Afro-Cuban heritage for their bewitching electro-soul debut. The sisters’ close harmonies and unison chants spill out hauntingly on “Oya,” an invocation to a Santeria spirit built on a digitally scuffed tribal beat. The sisters are the daughters of Buena Vista Social Club percussionist Anga Diaz, who died when the girls were pre-teens, and his spirit (as well as that of their deceased older sister) hangs overhead, but however ceremonial Ibeyi can feel at times, it’s rarely funereal—“my ghosts are not gone,” they sing, but “Ghosts” pulsates with lively chants. Only on standout “River” does it feel mournful, the sisters’ minor-key, gospel-influenced harmonies creating gothic atmosphere alongside a creeping piano and knocking beat. Ibeyi feels strange, its spare beats, eerily clipped sounds and occasional corroded hip-hop beat jibing uneasily with the sisters’ ritualistic vocals, but that underlying feeling of pain also serves to make the album’s spare landscapes feel oddly soothing in a cathartic sort of way. Perhaps it’s the Diaz’s directness—on “Behind the Curtain,” they sing, “dear audience, sweet spectator, we’re together for good,” and you can’t help but feel the connection. It’s an impressive and endlessly intriguing debut from the 20-year-old Diaz sisters.

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