NPR logo The 10 Best Electronic Albums Of 2014

The 10 Best Electronic Albums Of 2014

Gazelle Twin's Unflesh is one of our favorite electronic albums of 2014. i

Gazelle Twin's Unflesh is one of our favorite electronic albums of 2014. Tash Tung/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Tash Tung/Courtesy of the artist
Gazelle Twin's Unflesh is one of our favorite electronic albums of 2014.

Gazelle Twin's Unflesh is one of our favorite electronic albums of 2014.

Tash Tung/Courtesy of the artist

"Electronic music" just might be the silliest commonly-used genre title. (OK, OK, you're right: "world music," I take it back.) But seriously, just look at the variety of vibes we had to cram into this 10-album list. There's dance music, for sure (and lots of it), but there's also gender polemics, nightmarish self-portraits, laid-back soul, even spoken-word.

But we're playing by the rules as they actually exist, not as they should. When I look at the list now, after weeks spent considering dozens of records, it appears my subconscious criteria was "voice." I'm not talking about the kind emitted from mouths; I mean distinct sonic signatures that by the end of an album feel as if it couldn't have come from anyone else. Some artists here developed that voice over decades. Others needed less than an hour. But all of the records here take the idea of identity very seriously. Get to know a few.

The 10 Best Electronic Albums Of 2014

Kassem Mosse, Workshop 19
Courtesy of the artist

1. Kassem Mosse, 'Workshop 19'

  • Song: B1

Leipzig-based producer Gunnar Wendel pulled a Beyonce in February when, without any advance notice, he dropped his debut full-length as Kassem Mosse. While certainly not on the same scale as Queen Bey, Wendel does preside over a corner of the analog underground that eagerly awaits each new single, and the original pressing of Workshop 19 sold out almost instantly.

Like many "surprise!" albums that entice us to laud them without really listening, Workshop 19 was universally hailed upon its release. The crazy thing is, upon further reflection, these nine cuts actually got better. I think it's because Wendel's productions pull us in two directions at once, which creates a taut state of awareness. He's known for a certain warmth that come from his analog gear, but the tracks themselves sparkle with an icy austerity. This is liminal dance music at its best.

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Song
Workshop 19
Album
Workshop 19
Artist
Kassem Mosse
Label
Workshop
Released
2014

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Aphex Twin, Syro
Courtesy of the artist

2. Aphex Twin, 'Syro'

  • Song: minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]

Richard D. James' output as Aphex Twin from 1991 to 1999 is one of the great stretches in electronic music history. But there are sophomores in high school right now who didn't exist when that run came to an end with "Windowlicker." When you consider James' disappointing previous LP, Drukqs in 2001, and the following 13 years of radio silence, Aphex Twin fans had no reason to believe that the viral marketing leading up to the release of Syro would result in anything but a letdown. And yet ... here we are, fêting that devilish grin one more time. James lived up to expectations the only way he could: by exceeding them.

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Song
Syro [LP]
Album
Syro [LP]
Artist
Aphex Twin
Label
Warp
Released
2014

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Fatima, Yellow Memories
Courtesy of the artist

3. Fatima, 'Yellow Memories'

  • Song: Ridin' Round (Sky High)

Fatima Bramme Sey isn't technically an electronic artist — she's a gifted soul singer, born in Sweden and living in England. But her debut album, Yellow Memories, was released on Floating Points' label Eglo Records, features the London dance producer on several of the tracks, and was embraced by the dance community. Other guest producers include Theo Parrish, Oh No and Computer Jay, but the unequivocal star is Fatima. She's out of step with the current glut of raw SoundCloud R&B, instead opting for a more traditional timbre that, when backed by some of the most talented leftfield dance producers, could pass as the future sound of jazz.

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Song
Yellow Memories
Album
Yellow Memories
Artist
Fatima
Label
Eglo
Released
2014

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Gazelle Twin, Unflesh

Gazelle Twin, Unflesh Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

4. Gazelle Twin, 'Unflesh'

  • Song: Exorcise

Elizabeth Bernholz is an inspiring individual. To read of the physical, mental and existential anguish that this British artist harnessed to birth Unflesh is a humbling experience. To absorb her industrial-tinged opus that draws equally from Kate Bush and The Knife is an exhilarating one. With every burst of breath on "Exorcise," I caught my own. Arguably the most fully-realized album I heard in 2014.

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Song
Unflesh
Album
Unflesh
Artist
Gazelle Twin
Label
Last Gang Records

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Leon Vynehall, Music For The Uninvited
Courtesy of the artist

5. Leon Vynehall, 'Music For The Uninvited'

  • Song: Goodthing

On Music For The Uninvited, the Portsmouth, U.K., house producer has a knack for wringing every drop of emotion out of a sample. The seven tracks vary in tempo and temperament, but I'm always left feeling something (especially when Vynehall ends each side of this double LP with the "click" of a cassette player's stop/eject button). I don't mean to sound blasphemous, but the way these vintage snippets fit together under a warm blanket of magnetic tape reminds me of Endtroducing.....

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Song
Music For The Uninvited
Album
Music For The Uninvited
Artist
Leon Vynehall
Released
2014

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Theo Parrish, American Intelligence i
Courtesy of the artist
Theo Parrish, American Intelligence
Courtesy of the artist

6. Theo Parrish, 'American Intelligence'

  • Song: Be In Yo Self

At more than 2 hours, American Intelligence is an exhaustive listen, and not necessarily one designed for a single sitting. When experienced in small doses, however, you'll find grooves you'll never want to leave. Theo Parrish intended for the album title to serve as an oxymoron (he's not exactly feeling optimistic about the U.S.A.'s current trajectory), but I like to also look at it as a reflection of the name directly above it on the album cover. The EDM that America is now known for can be incredibly stupid, and it's worth remembering that we've got a few geniuses operating in our midst.

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Copeland, Because I'm Worth It.
Courtesy of the artist

7. Copeland, 'Because I'm Worth It.'

  • Song: Advice To Young Girls (feat. Actress)

Because I'm Worth It., the debut solo LP by Alina Astrova, a.k.a. Inga Copeland, takes its name from the famous L'Oreal marketing campaign, a complicated phrase imbued with equal parts feminism and vanity. In this case, it serves as a raison d'être for an album that arrives two years after the disintegration of Astrova's former band, Hype Williams. Given the transfixing rhythms and textures on display here, Astrova deserves some time alone in the spotlight.

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Song
Because I'm Worth It.
Album
Because I'm Worth It.
Artist
Copeland
Released
2014

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Moodymann, Moodymann
Courtesy of the artist

8. Moodymann, 'Moodymann'

  • Song: Sloppy Cosmic

Detroit dance icon Kenny Dixon, Jr. released two versions of Moodymann: a CD that stretches to 27 tracks, and a vinyl album that's limited to 11. While I'm thrilled that new fans grabbing the mp3s will encounter the previously released classic "Freeki Mutha F cker," less is more in this case. The shorter version is an air-tight listening experience featuring new material that's almost entirely killer. Dixon brings the funk on one of his finest productions ever, "Sunday Hotel," with a little help from Muddy Waters, but the album's highpoint is its finale, the 12-minute "Sloppy Cosmic," which includes samples from Funkadelic and words from George Clinton himself.

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Steffi, Power of Anonymity
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9. Steffi, 'Power Of Anonymity'

  • Song: Bang For Your Buck

There's something to be said for coloring inside the lines now and then and adhering to self-prescribed boundaries. Steffi Doms, a resident DJ at Panorama Bar in Berlin, is one of the best when it comes to traditional definitions of deep house. Her mid-tempo mood music tends to run in place, but oh, what a serene place it is. None of the tracks on Power Of Anonymity scream "anthem" (or anything, really), but when heard one after the other in sequence you begin to understand the album's title.

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Song
Power of Anonymity
Album
Power of Anonymity
Artist
Steffi
Label
Ostgut Ton

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Planningtorock, All Love's Legal
Courtesy of the artist

10. Planningtorock, 'All Love's Legal'

  • Song: Human Drama

The most polarizing album on this list, and not because of the way it questions gender identity. Berlin artist Jam Rostron has a ... distinct voice, one that she intentionally contorts to sound neither male nor female. Some might find Rostron's journeys off-key a little jarring, but after several listens, I think All Love's Legal is the most uncompromising piece of art I heard this year. That it dealt directly with a topic in need of deeper societal engagement made it all the more vital.

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Song
All Love's Legal
Album
All Love's Legal
Artist
Planningtorock
Label
Human Level
Released
2014

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