This is the year I rediscovered electronic music, and not in a Skrillex sort of way, but more like how I felt when I heard Kraftwerk for the first time. Some music veterans came back in new iterations and released some of the best music of their careers. Then, a guy you’ve never heard of recorded an album based on a movie and I felt my brain explode.
5. Sunset Graves, Variant (review)
I’m weird about electronic music. I have no real desire to “wait for the drop,” nor do I wish bounce up and down with thousands of teenagers ripped up on MDMA. Glow sticks just aren’t that fascinating. But if you can create an evocative soundscape for me to lose myself in, I’ll stay in for the long haul. Variant is a dense, lush piece of work, with Kubrickian echoes and Davies power chords. It shimmers, shines, and pulsates outside the boundaries of reason, hanging like an orb, just out of reach. Sunset Graves has created the sound of magic.
4. Big Country, The Journey (review)
Although frontman Mike Peters and Big Country have since parted ways, the album they made together was glorious. The Journey celebrates the bonds of being alive and the mysteries of being connected in ways that Bruce Springsteen at his most jingoistic can only grasp at. With a sweet lack of cynicism and the willingness to be joyful, this record makes you want to shower in a waterfall by a village consisting of huts with thatch roofs, naked and singing with everyone you know, just because you have the freedom to do so.
3. Halfdeaf, LV-426
Odds are you’ve never heard of indie electronic music creator Halfdeaf. His crazy pastiches of original music and off the wall samples make him one of the strangest and most interesting artists out there. His love of science, science fiction and general geekery shine out on all his electronica albums. The music rides the spike between EDM and ambience. Dance if you wanna, get baked to it if you wanna. His album, LV-426, is a tribute to the movie ALIENS. It could almost serve as an alternative soundtrack to the film. Incredibly evocative of the film and, at times, just as harrowing, LV-426 is a must for sci-fi and music fans alike. I’ve been on the Halfdeaf train for a while now. Join me there.
2. David Bowie, The Next Day
An apostate world was suddenly reminded this year that David Bowie is a god, as he surprised us all with a new album, new videos and a touring exhibit about himself and his impact on popular culture. We had forgotten. We won’t make that mistake again. The Next Day is a manic combination of everything we perceive to love about Bowie. You’ll hear a smattering of Scary Monsters, a bit of Let’s Dance, some Ziggy Stardust here and there. Hell, the first single, “Where are We Now?” wouldn’t have been out of place on the Labyrinth soundtrack. There’s no pandering here, though, and nothing even close to a retread. Bowie shows is that he is as he always was: that strange one, that chameleon who can choose which color he changes into. What nobody has the balls to say is, a man this old shouldn’t make an album this good. But when has Bowie ever been a mere man? He is an expert. He is the Thin White Duke, he is the DJ, he’s deranged, he’s afraid of Americans. He is the rock and roll Caligula, timeless and solid, perpetually on the edge. Listen to The Next Day and remember what it was like to feel the kinetic power of rock and roll.
1. How to destroy angels, Welcome oblivion
Trent Reznor gives up the microphone to his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, puts down the rage for a while, brings in soundtrack collaborator Atticus Ross and artist Rob Sheridan, and creates ethereal aural decadence. These are the songs of settling, an ease into middle age, where the righteous anger and fury of youth start to decline into a deep, abiding uneasiness that lives in your spinal cord. There is beautiful dread on this album, noises in another room in the middle of the night, the crying baby no one will comfort. “Ice age” is at once the most terrifying and sumptuous song in years, those seven minutes feeling stretched out like the slow-motion seconds before the inevitable car crash. Welcome oblivion will raise you up and flatten you. It lives. It breathes. It seethes. There is nothing else like it.