After the buzz of the non-secular holiday season draws to a close, a certain peace and tranquility begins to set in. No more lists of presents to purchase or festive celebrations to attend or pleasant, yet disingenuous, smiles when confronted with garish sweaters or related accoutrements. While I don’t fancy myself a “Scrooge”, I enjoy the post-holiday bliss a lot more than the build-up, though the opportunity to share with family and friends is always the most rewarding. Thus, in the spirit of giving and chilling, this particular year-end post contains records that brought a state of meditative calm through intoxicating beats, sly and sensuous production, or downright (dance)floor pounding release. Unlike other records or tracks these are more about the feeling and experience and less about the stories. So without further ado… May the Chill Be With You. a.a.
Our Love by Caribou – For those that have been listening to Dance or Electronic music since the 90s, it has been a fascinating development of a genre once-deemed underground or transgressive (or even “non-music” for its absence of “real” sound and its reliance on computers, effects, and production) to its current state of genre of the 21st global hegemony. In the past decade, this music has become all-pervasive, infiltrating every sector of popular music from traditional pop to hip-hop to even Country, which seems an odd pairing. Lost in the evolution was the original essence of these early ground-breaking genres, whether Downtempo, Ambient, Techno, Drum and Bass, Trip-Hop, etc. While all music aims to transport the listener from the everyday into a state of heightened pleasure or awareness, all these sub-genres or offshoots of dance music had the unique power of transforming atmosphere and environment into a fully enveloping experience. It wasn’t so much a Wall of Sound as a World of Sound. While undeniably of its times, Our Love harkens back to a time when dance music lacked predictability and formula. Caribou’s newest album brings back the feel of dark-lit dance floors in clubs on the outskirts of the main streets or after the hours when the regular crowd was in attendance. From start to finish, it is a sumptuous and sultry DJ set in the guise of an album. The pacing fluctuates from upbeat full-fledged dance tracks to sedate, groovy slow jams. It is the perfect nightcap for your mental wanderings.
Awake by Tycho – Following in the theme of album as environment, Tycho’s latest effort embraces the chill, meditative state of his previous release, Dive, and pushes the listener into a dreamier, active state of mind. He is a master of finding the perfect space between ambient and infectious. Before you realize it, he will take you from contemplation to hip-shaking. Awake is a record that will both fuel your workday flow and your evening’s rest.
Built On Glass by Chet Faker – All I have to say about this album is: sexy. Chet Faker’s Built On Glass fits somewhere between Rhye’s brand of “Lover’s Rock R&B “ and James Blake steamy dub-step with tinges of Jazz riffs – hence his moniker. This record could easily have landed high on the more pop-focused review (forthcoming), but it feels more of the world of dance and Downtempo because the grooves and atmospheric elements. Wherever it lands, it’s a gorgeous collection of songs.
Xen by Arca – Admittedly this is the most “out there” and experimental album on this list. With most of the tracks clocking in at under 3 minutes, it feels like the punk rock version of an electronic record. But, in reality it is akin to the early experimental dance tracks of Burial, which tended to be shorter explorations of soundscapes. There are moments of sheer transcendent beauty and departures into realms of cacophonous dirge and noise. It isn’t the easiest or most accessible listen, but you get the feel of a talented young artist searching through a synthetic, aural language for his voice. Very curious to see where he goes next…
Syro by Aphex Twin – When discussing this list with my cousin, who really opened my ears to this world, he remarked how much he disliked the new Aphex Twin, his first release in a very long time. And, I admit, on first listen, I was not totally captured because it lacked the brilliant in-your-face game-changing feel of Richard D. James Album or I Care Because You Do. But, on repeated and return listens, I found a certain pleasure in the way Aphex Twin updated the avant elements of his earlier work with the current motifs of the downtempo/ambient/electronic scene. The album has a unique through the looking glass of time feel. If anything it helps remind us listeners how important and influential Aphex Twin was in pushing electronic music to a new gear.
Alone for the First Time by Ryan Hemsworth – In many ways the title says it all for me. This album is like a secret bedroom recording with a confessional and deeply intimate quality. However, these seemingly reclusive snippets don’t wallow in self-abasement or frustration but in dance-floor romanticism. In certain moments, I am reminded of early 00s pieces from DNTL or Prefuse 73.
Asleep Versions (EP) by Jon Hopkins – Some would argue that EPs shouldn’t be counted on the same level as full length albums. Well, when the EP is longer than some records and you are as brilliant and talented as Jon Hopkins, these foolish rules don’t apply. These four tracks are a gorgeous exploration of how much can be made with so little. The tracks are slow and seemingly sparse but in those spaces of silence and austerity there is profundity of emotional resonance. The opening track with King Creosote providing vocals is just heartbreakingly beautiful.
Tangerine Sky by Blackbird Blackbird – A trippy-otherworldly sounding electronic records.