Thursday, December 12, 2013

Knix Picks for Twenty Best Electronic Albums of 2013

The year 2013 is quickly coming to a close, which is good enough reason to take a look back over the broad spectrum of what constitutes electronic music and pick my personal top 20 new releases.  I have a penchant for music that smacks of the Second British Invasion, which dominated the airwaves in the 1980's, so I was pleased that 2013 saw new releases from some of the most influential bands of that era including New Order, Depeche Mode, The Pet Shop Boys, Berlin, Visage and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. Gary Numan, one of the founding fathers of synthpop whose career has spanned over three decades, added a new album to his extensive discography.  It took Daft Punk eight years to produce a follow up to Human After All, and the resulting slick 1970's French disco sounding album was not quite what I expected, though it grew on me. The trend this year seems to be looking back to move forward with bands emulating the disco, post-punk, New Wave, Brit pop, alternative dance and electro-industrial sounds of earlier decades.
At the same time, the proliferation of electronic music festivals has made DJ's and producers like Deadmau5 household names. I kid you not, there was an article in Seventeen Magazine declaring neon as an absolute must in music festival fashion for the teen girl crowd.  I'm not so much a techno/electronica/EDM (or whatever they're calling it this year) gal myself, though I have my moments, but it seems to me that when underground music is no longer underground, something new will inevitably come along to fill the gap for those who don't want to "follow" the trend but "be" the trend.  So here are Knix Picks (in alphabetical order) for the new electronic albums I loved listening to in 2013.  I look forward to hearing what's new in 2014! (And don't forget to tune in to The Knix Mix on WERU and request what you want to hear in electronic music!)

Austra Olympia
Austra, a band from Toronto, released their sophomore album, a follow up to the successful 2011 debut album Feel It Break.  Katie Stelmanis's passionate vocals and the emotional lyrics paired with a synthpop backdrop make for a compelling album.  "Painful Like" was a heartrending standout track.

Boards of Canada Tomorrow's Harvest
The Scottish duo last released an EP seven years ago and a full length album eight years ago, but Tomorrow's Harvest is still recognizably their well crafted style.

Braids Flourish//Perish
This is Braids' second album and their first after losing their guitarist.  Experimental pop with a shoegaze feel, this is the softer side of electronic music.  "Amends" is undoubtedly my favorite song on the album.

CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe
This album can be found on many a "Best of 2013" chart and with good reason.  This Scottish trio crosses music genres with their infectious electropop songs, and there isn't a throwaway track on the album.

Cut Copy Free Your Mind
This is the Australian group's fourth album, and I never get sick of hearing any one of them.  This is probably why Cut Copy has enjoyed a bit of commercial success despite their indie roots.

Daft Punk Random Access Memories
Daft Punk's Homework, Discovery and Human After All were staples in my music diet for many years, so I was particularly interested to see what they would do next.  Random Access Memories is a bit more slick and polished than previous work.  That said, there are a few songs on the album that will become dance club staples.

Deptford Goth Life After Defo
Moody and spare, there is nothing "goth" about Deptford Goth, but this art school graduate has produced some beautifully ethereal songs.  Listen to "Feel Real," and you'll know why this album made the cut.

Disclosure Settle
Another album that has made it's way onto many "Best of 2013" charts, Settle is probably the consummate dance album of the year, even if the British Garage sound is not usually my thing.

Gesaffelstein Aleph
I can't stop talking about this album, and I'm not usually hyped about all instrumental tracks.  I like emotive lyrics. I just do. But this French producer has taken techno and shaken it up a bit with a heavier industrial sound that has me listening to the album on repeat play.

Goldfrapp Tales of Us
I had to give a nod to English duo, Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, who have delivered infectious disco inspired dance floor hits like "Number 1" and "Ooh La La" for years.  This, their sixth album, is a complete departure.  Each song is inspired by a person, and the result is a haunting, melodic, ballad driven album that will not inspire you on the dance floor but will inspire you to stop and listen.

House of Blondes Clean Cuts
This album is more minimal ambient electro than I typically go for, but I found myself playing it again and again.  "Shadows" has to be one of my favorite tracks of the year.

The Knife Shaking the Habitual
In my mind, nothing bad ever comes from Sweden, and The Knife is no exception.  Their fourth album is a bit more raw and avant-garde than previous releases.

Lightning Dust Fantasy
An indie folk act from Vancouver, I am surprised at how much I like this album.  They took what they were doing well before and added synthesizers and rhythm boxes.  The result is an album that is a step above their previous releases with "Loaded Gun" being one of my favorite tracks ever.

Mat Zo Damage Control
Damage Control was only recently released, but it quickly made my favorite picks list for the year.  This London born producer looked to old Chemical Brothers for inspiration, which might be why I like it so much.

Moderat II
The German trio includes Apparat, who definitely makes his unique style a part of the collaboration.  It's more experimental than I typically like, but I can't get enough of "Bad Kingdom," one of the best tracks of the year.

Juana Molina Wed 21
Molina is an Argentinian singer/songwriter.  Her work is Latin folk meets electronic, and her melodies are amazing.

Neon Neon Praxis Makes Perfect
A second concept album from Neon Neon.  The first being Stainless Style, which was a musical portrait of John DeLorean.  This time the subject is Italian communist publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

Gary Numan Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)
Numan is always changing up his game.  This time he takes his cues from a dark time in his family life and perhaps hanging out with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails (who also had a new album this year).  Splinter is a bit darker and a more industrial than some of the early synthpop he is well known for, though true Numanoids will be reminded of the more aggressive vocals and guitar work of Pure, the follow up album to Exile.  As a devoted fan, I had to give a nod to one of the most influential artists in the electronic genre.

Sonen Inside the Sun
Atlanta based Sonen created a home grown album that attempts to embody their impressive live shows with tracks with strong hooks that will make you want to hit the dance floor.

V.V. Brown Samson & Delilah
Brown is an English singer/songwriter with an R&B vibe.  This album is a stylistic change for her.  The backdrop is more synthpop than prior work, but the vocals are pure V.V. Brown.

There are a ton of other albums that could have made the cut.  I loved the new releases from Tricky, Her Royal Harness, Ikonika, Rudimental, Club 8, Sigur Ros, Rudimental, Still Corners, Small Black, MS MR, Morcheeba and The Naked and Famous - though a couple of those albums rated more highly with me than with music critics.  And let's give a shout out to the ladies of 2013.  Lorde, Icona Pop, Charli XCX, Sandra Kolstad, AlunaGeorge and Maya Jane Coles had some of the best club hits of the year.  There are also albums that are forward thinking critical successes in the electronic music category, making the cut on many "Best of 2013" charts, which I haven't chosen for my Top 20 list.  Albums by Autechre, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kaskade, Jon Hopkins and James Holden come to mind.  I've only been hosting The Knix Mix for the last half of the year so a few of these passed me by, and I promise to give them a proper listen.  What constitutes a critical success is not necessarily the same thing as what constitutes a Knix Pick, but if I want to hear an album again and again, it rates highly in my book.  Extra points if you can dance to it!


  1. Cool list. I'll add also these electronic albums:
    Marnie - Crystal World (she's Ladytron's main singer)
    Mesh - Automation Baby
    OMD - English Electric
    Annie - The A&R
    ZyniC - Blindsided
    Wild Nothing - Empty Estate
    Ulrich Schnauss - A Long Way to Fall
    The Naked and Famous - In Rolling Waves
    The Field - Cupid's Head
    Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
    Stellardrone - Light Years
    Soft Metals - Lenses
    Solar Fields - Origin # 02
    Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain
    Polica - Shulamith
    Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
    Miss Kittin - Calling From the Stars
    Midnight Juggernauts - Uncanny Valley
    Marsheaux - Inhale
    Little Boots - Nocturnes
    IO Echo - Ministry of Love
    Feathers - If All Now Here
    Ejecta - Dominae
    Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
    Au Revoir Simone - Move in Spectrums
    Ellie Goulding - Halcyon Days
    Elliphant - A Good Life

    1. Some really good ones, Alin! And ones I don't know yet. Which reminds me, we never got the new NIN, Naked and Famous or Miss Kittin in at the station, but our diligent Music Director asked for them for me. Must revisit that!