Electronic-Dance

The Mountain Will Fall (CD)

On The Mountain Will Fall, DJ Shadow’s first album in five years, the groundbreaking hip-hop/electronica producer proves he’s still one of the most forward-thinking artists in the game. The atmospheric, instrumental title track opens the album with dreamy, futuristic vibes before launching into the funk-inflected “Nobody Speak,” which features Run the Jewels. German ambient/modern classical composer and producer Nils Frahm makes an appearance on “Bergschrund,” where spaced out washes of sound meet hyperactive textures and beats. The LP finds Shadow pushing the limits even further on his own original compositions, but of course half the fun is guest appearances from the previously mentioned artists, as well as avant grade electro dude Bleep Bloop, bass-heavy experimentalist G. Jones, and bright young UK jazz trumpeter Matthew Halsall.

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Unlimited (CD)

Bassnectar has been living high since the success of 2011's Divergent Spectrum. His melodic style of EDM has been filling massive venues, and it's easy to see why. Tracks build on steady rhythms which are slowly layered over polyrhythmic drums that go all over the place. One moment you are listening to New Age atmospherics right out of Jean Michel Jarre, glitch effects a la Aphex Twin, and wild dub drops and swirls that channel Skrillex. He builds a certain kind of song structure and it's shown off on the mellower and more outer spacey Unlimited. There's an amount of air the songs are given to breathe before they cascade into frenetic jams that get your blood pumping and your legs moving. And to keep the mood fresh, he brought in a huge team of collaborators and mix makers: The Glitch Mob, Hallo, Levitate, G. Jones, Gnar Gnar, and Lucid, all of whom bring their unique style to shake things up. "Level Up" is the perfect example of minds meeting. Bassnectar's collaboration with Levitate is one of the fiercer tracks that has a no holds barred aggressive attitude that perfectly combines EDM and trap with weird, weird elements of Bollywood rhythms. The optimistic and futuristic "Unlimited Combinations" is another beast that feels lighter and less intense with waves of positivity radiating from the track. Bassnectar himself said he constructed each song to have "multiple versions and special hidden meaning, and alternate endings" and you can hear it in just how delicately assembled the blasts of sound are. As spiritual as EDM gets.

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Skin (CD)

The mega success of Flume's first album set the expectations high. But Harley Streten avoided the sophomore slump by upping the ante on all his contemporaries. Picking up on all sorts of cues from electronic glitchiness, dub, trap music, house, and even psych, Skin is the perfect combination of all sorts of flavors and the result is an epic album bursting with style. And that doesn't even scratch the list of guest artists: Beck, Vince Staples, Tove Lo, Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge, Vic Mensa, and even Raekwon. Things get glitchy and the music distorts on-and-off while layers of synths swirl and discombobulate. After hearing and Shazam-ing a track by Tove Lo at a Los Angeles bar, he created "Say It" with her voice unique voice in mind. The track has all the makings for a classic anthem, but the bizarre, popping programmed loops and drums fizzle, giving it the type of depth most radio/streaming pop hits lack. "Wall Fuck" takes a few tips from the experimental, with in-your-face bizzaro synth sounding like a deconstructed dubstep track. The rhythm is there, but the song continuously hiccups and the drops are off so much that it could almost disorient you before it cascades into a dramatic and screechy finish. The ending track, "Tiny Cities," which creates a chorus using only loops of Beck's voice, is beautifully dramatic with soft sonic layers and features some of Beck's best singing in years. The four year wait for his next album was worth it. This is the album electronic artists will be trying to copy for years.

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Mayday (CD)

Alexander Ridha's Boys Noize project isn't easy listening. Initially attempting to premiere his album at a Berlin May Day protest, police squads showed up and broke up the concert amidst political rioting. But a month since then, Boys Noize's own Mayday is here. In a world of milquetoast electronica and gentle rhythms, Mayday is the musical equivalent of getting smashed in the face. The drippy bass spills out and distorts manically as Boys Noize's fierce sound rips your head off and puts it in a paint mixer. Pulling producer "Benga" out to give it the strange dubstep rhythms of his own productions, "Dynamite" is the nightmare version of house. The disco beat and dramatic R&B singing of house is there, but everything is grungier and grimier with sludgy, gooey synths pouring all over you. "Birthday," his collaboration with mega producer Hudson Mohawke and rapper Spank Rock, takes what sounds like a rhythm ready for a number one single and inflates it to the point it could almost explode. Distorted vocals, voice samples, and blasting synths spin around Spank Rock's catchy mantra. "Midnight" is post-industrial with its fuzzy mechanical drums that sound like they are playing out of a tape deck. The short loops and endless vocal samples are enough to disorient you completely as your mind turns into mush and you lose yourself in the rhythm. This is dance music that grabs you and never gives you a second to rest. You'll be beat at the end, but you'll also never want it to stop.

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Hopelessness (CD)

Just as the artist formerly known as Antony has chosen to go by the name ANOHNI in her personal and professional life, Hopelessness, her debut sans the Johnsons, dramatically refashions the artist’s sound world. With production by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI takes her socially conscious lyrics to the world of experimental synth-pop. “Let me be the one, the one that you choose from above,” she sings darkly in “Drone Bomb Me,” one of many politically pointed songs on the album. Similarly, she takes on the role of the victim on the sparkling, Kate Bush-inspired “Execution,” which refers to its titular act as “an American dream.” Over the pounding drums and synth-orchestral pomp of “4 Degrees,” ANOHNI decries the environmental atrocities we’ve enacted with the blackest of black humor (“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze/I wanna see the animals die in the trees”). “I know you love me, ‘cause you’re always watching me,” she sings on the stunning “Watch Me,” an indictment of PRISM and America’s obsession with surveillance. As its title suggests, the album can run dour, as on bleak pieces like “Obama,” which is daring but feels a little on the nose, lyrically. Luckily, Hopelessness balances its dire subject matter with spectacular, pop-minded production that retains touches of the chamber-pop style on which ANOHNI built her musical stature. And on experimental pieces like the electro-jazz of “Violent Man,” her music also has never been more vibrant. Though not exactly full of sunshine and rainbows, by turning a bright light on the things we’d rather ignore, Hopelessness finds triumph.

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Material (LP)

The latest from Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s electronic alter ego, Blaqk Audio. Produced and recorded by Puget, this is Blaqk Audio’s third release following 2012's Bright Black Heaven. Though best known for their work with AFI, Blaqk Audio’s love of electronic music runs deep.

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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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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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