Here's my review of electronic music in 2015, including the inaugural The Letter Awards!
I can't say my music listening habits have changed much since last year, I'm still listening to music about ten hours a day on average, but what has changed is how I buy music. Thanks to Spotify I've seen a new pattern emerge: I listen to new releases a few times then decide whether to buy or not. The result of this is that the majority of new music in my collection is now of such a high standard, I find my job of reviewing the year much harder than usual (first world problems, eh?).
Another emerging pattern was the blurring boundary between EPs and albums; extended players masquerading as albums. There's nothing wrong with this pattern, in fact I rather like the idea of a short album that delivers a serious sucker punch to the senses; a sonic shot to the arm. A few that fall into that category are Ecologies by J.G. Biberkopf (six tracks in 22 minutes), Body Pill by Anthony Naples (eight tracks in 29 minutes), Assertion of a Surrounding Presence by Kuedo (seven tracks in 23 minutes) and Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 by Aphex Twin (thirteen tracks in 28 minutes). These mini-epics may be small and brief but they are fully formed and thoroughly satisfying.
It wasn't just mini-masterpieces that stole the limelight this year, there was plenty of traditional EPs, singles and albums that left a considerable dent in my psyche. Significantly, many of these releases blurred musical genres, leaving me questioning what sort of music I was listening to, with the best answer being 'electronic music'. Some of the highlights in this new genreless genre were, Ecologies by J.G. Biberkopf, Body Pill by Anthony Naples, Levon Vincent's eponymous album, IPMAN's stunning debut Depatterning and Homesick from Matrixxman.
Ambient, not ambient
I'm sure my evolving tastes had something to do with the increase in ambient music I was hearing (and appreciating) this year, although I'm not sure ambient is actually the best term. Albums like Body Pill by Anthony Naples, Sleepstep by Dasha Rush, Body Complex by Heathered Pearls and Grind by DJ Richard each managed to sooth and pacify with beatless passages and gentle rhythms, but also rouse and animate sharply with bold Techno beats. This ambient, not ambient style of music is where I found my greatest listening pleasures.
Dasha Rush produced arguably the best Ambient Techno album this year with Sleepstep. Guy J mixed things up with his monumental double album The Trees, The Sea & The Sun; a true journey of musical styles. Bokide 325 was a beautiful four track EP from the electronica pioneers B12. With subtle beats and yearning synths, Body Complex, the second album from Heathered Pearls took Ambient into new realms. Erich Schall made deep, dubby ambient on his Dubcutan EP. King Midas Sound & Fennesz produced some superb ambient music with vocals, called Edition 1. Pattern of Excel from Lee Bannon signalled a change in direction from Hip-Hop and Jungle to Ambient, with resounding success.
There was a lot of looking back too
Of course, all artists look back for inspiration, turning something old and inspirational into something fresh and inspiring by stamping their own personal imprint on their produce. As Special Request, Paul Woolford extended his love affair with early nineties Rave and Hardcore with some hard hitting Jungle anthems on his Modern Warfare collection of 12" singles. Helena Hauff's debut Discreet Desires had a distinct eighties EBM / Electro feel, while Dawn Mok's Eternal Love took elements of RnB crossing them with cutting edge electronic sounds. Elswehere, on Romare's debut album, Projections used old samples on the subject of black, African culture, to create a timely statement made only possible with perspective and cutting edge sounds.
The biggest surprise for me though was Joker's second album The Mainframe, which sounded like it could have been made several years ago, yet still sounds vital and fresh; a real testament to his singular artistic vision. On the back of his award winning album Syro last year, and in addition to his ongoing hard disk clearing exercises, Richard D James spent more time looking back at his old productions to dig out two "new" albums: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 and orphaned deejay selek 2006-2008.
The Letter Awards
To spice things up and help bring attention to specific music that I loved (or didn't love), I've created a bunch of fun award categories:
Best opening track on an album or EP
Regicide - Ipman (from album Depatterning)
Best track longer than 10 minutes
Chasing Away The Night - Gesloten Cirkel (from EP Murdercapital M-012)
Best upbeat, feel-good podcast mix
The Future Sound of Soca - Mr One Hundred (for DIS Magazine)
Best track with piano
Freudian Slippers by Chilly Gonzales (with Kaiser Quartett) (from album Chambers)
Best re-released track
What's a Girl to Do - Fatima Yamaha (from album A Girl Between Two Worlds)
Best re-released compilation
Tokyo Offshore Project - Theatrical Techno Illustrated
Most listened to fabric release
fabric 80: Joseph Capriati
Best track from a free compilation
Blood Lust - Lake Haze (from compilation Crack Babies Stole My Creme Shirt - 15 Years Creme Organization - Part 2)
Worst track from a compilation
I Want To Be Art - Stefan Tcherepnin (on Dial's compilation All) - painful
Most chilled-out mix
isolatedmix 58 by Joachim Spieth (for A Strangely Isolated Place)
Best jazzy House album
5 by Fp-Oner (A.K.A. Fred P)
Kompakt Total 15
Best EBM-inspired track
Silver Sand & Boxes of Mould by Helen Hauff (from Discreet Desires)
Best album of emotional pop
DREI by Emika
Best free album
Levon Vincent - Levon Vincent
Best track longer than 20 minutes
Tie-break between The Deluge - William Basinski (from album The Deluge)
...and Morning Side by Four Tet (from album Morning/Evening)
Most emotive track
Scud Books - Hudson Mohawke (from album Lantern)
Track with the most annoying sample
The World - Hunee (from album Hunch Music)
Best rumbling, thumping house tune
Sycophant - Dense and Pika (from Lynn EP)
Best cheesy pop song
Lucy (feat. Sam Frank) - Joker (from album The Mainframe)
Best tenth album
Neither/Neither - The Black Dog
Best Techno album
Words Unspoken, Acts Undone - CW/A
Best track with a guitar
Void - Naked (from album Youth Mode)
Mooryc - Take 'Em All
Cheap Treat (Panda Bear Version) - Eric Copeland (from EP Joke In The Hole Remixes)
Most effective drum sampling
Big Dope P - Momma On Da Flo featuring Feadz (from EP Hit Da Blokk)
Best release from Danny Wolfers
El Saber Del Arpavor by Calimex Mental Implant Corp.
Best release that sounds like The Caretaker
Talbot Fade - November Versions
Best ambient album
Donnacha Costello - Stay Perfectly Still
Best album that actually came out last year
Brassica - Man Is Deaf
Stay tuned for my top albums, top tracks and top cover sleeve art work.