Before we can discuss 2015 we need to know who 2015 really is. We’ve got to take a walk in its shoes, we’ve gotta take it out to dinner, maybe invite it inside afterwards?
Yesterday I was in the dentist office and I could hear The Chainsmoker’s Roses being played over whatever pop station they had on, a few dentists were talking about how much they loved this new group. The other day I was in the mall and there was a t-shirt print boutique that was displaying a sample t-shirt with Flume’s logo. The most popular radio station in Los Angeles, KIIS FM, hosted their annual Christmas concert putting the German electro artist Zedd next to acts like One Direction and The Weeknd…okay?
It’s obvious that we have came a long way from EDM’s underground days. Every year we’re drifting further and further away from 2010, what most would consider the year that dance music broke through to the masses. Now we’re half a decade away and it is clear that EDM is here to stay, if anything it is getting more popular but also more obscure as we drift further down the timeline of modern music.
Whenever a genre blows up in popularity there becomes a kind of ant hill, swarms of hungry creatures climbing to reach that stardom that has already been founded by other musical innovators. Many will be able to leach onto the fame of a genre, taking it for a ride on the festival circuit for as long as they can remain relevant. That is not what we want to make this list about. Rather, this list represents those artists that are creating their own ant hills and charting new territories, some that others will probably be latching onto in the future. And now that we’re half a decade deep into the age of EDM, we’re gonna find a lot of people getting sick of the same formulas and trying out new things. Our list consists of the albums that we found most innovative and challenging to the genres that we know and love. Many of these records made it on because they were straight up undefiable in genre. Regardless, we think that all of these albums made an impact in music one way or another and we’re glad to be sharing them with you today. So grab yourself a Michael Jackson eating popcorn meme, sit back, and enjoy.
20. Great Dane – Great Dane
Great Dane hit a homerun with the release of his third full length self-titled record. Spanning a womping 19 tracks, Dane puts on a show with a cohesive collection of beat-scene bangers that is sure to send shivers up any listener. The record begins with Carmack-sounding minimal trap beats, but it soon progresses into a heavenly state of consciousness with the track Fairheaven. It slowly shifts backwards to a bass heavy psychedelic feel. It puts on a dark attitude that is worth every second of attention.
19. Scuba – Claustrophobia
Scuba is the stage name of British electronic producer and founder of Hotflush Recordings Paul Rose. He has released tons of music in the form of LP’s, EP’s, Singles, and mixes, which has been gaining increasing popularity for his knack of house music. This year he released a record called Claustrophobia, which has a pretty fitting title. With this album we see the producer exploring a new soundscape of dark techno intertwined with beautiful shimmering synths. Scuba has always had killer percussion and this album is no exception. There are many eerie synths throughout the record that keep you on edge and add a sort of anticipation wondering where the journey is going to go next. There are some straight up techno bangers on this album so if that’s what you’re looking for I’d recommend checking out the track ‘PCP’, possibly my favorite techno track of the year. If you were looking for melodic pieces full of ambient synthesizers and atmospheric samples then I would check out tracks such as ‘Needle Phobia’ or the dreamy album closer ‘Transience’.
18. Spor – Caligo
This year ushered in John Gooch’s return to the world of drum and bass as the long-missed Spor. After a multi-year hiatus, during which he focused primarily on his work as ‘Feed Me’, Gooch returned to the DnB scene by gracing the world with a full-length album. The record, titled Caligo, was released through Sotto Voce as an official torrent bundle, giving listeners a wealth of Spor related content for absolutely free. Among the torrent’s fifty files were Caligo’s thirteen tracks – a baker’s dozen culmination of the genius that is Spor. Though most of those tracks rang true to the DnB sound that Spor is known for – The Hole Where Your House Was being one of our favorites – a few deviations made their way onto the roster, delivering a well-rounded electronic LP for the masses.
17. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
Leftfield is a British electronic act that has been around since 1989. Their latest record Alternative Light Source is their first in 16 years and it is worth the wait. The album has the distinct Leftfield style with analog synths and drum machines but still sounds fresh and fitting for what is happening currently in electronic music. There are a few guest vocalists on this record such as the first track “Bad Radio” featuring Tunde Adebimpe from alternative group TV On The Radio. The album has a good variety of styles from down-tempo bangers like Head and Shoulders to Storms End, which has a heaven trap style and even house and techno tracks like Little Fish and Shaker Obsession. This record is pretty upbeat for the most part and is a great comeback from Leftfield.
16. Rustie – Evenifyoudontbelieveme
Warp Records alum, Rustie, has never had any shortage of material to deliver to the world. He even managed to release a track from a hospital bed during a stint earlier this year related to diabetic issues – a fact that further attests to his all-around beastliness. He followed up his last-year release, Green Language, with yet another album – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE. In contrast to Green Language’s seeming focus on vocal features, EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE delved deep into Rustie’s ability to create massive, synthesized soundscapes, without the need to incorporate any truly organic elements. First Mythz is an exemplary track of the album’s awesome juxtaposition of bright synth and heavy bass lines. EIUDB marked Rustie’s third Warp Records LP, and its creative content makes it quite evident that the Glaswegian producer is nowhere near slowing down.
15. Eric Prydz – Vol. 1-3
This year Eric Prydz has been celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Pryda with a series of releases containing a ton of material that fans have been waiting years for. Vol. 1 features the tracks that he typically plays at festivals, the heavy melodic music. The stand out tracks on Vol. 1 are Rebel XX and Neuron but the rest are just as stunning. Check out our full review on Vol. 1 here. Vol. 2 features six more progressive tracks that take time to build and extend, lasting around nine minutes each. This was a lot of music that hadn’t been heard before because it’s the old school Pryda sound that Prydz rarely brings out in sets that aren’t part of his “EPIC” show. Vol. 3 combines the sounds of the first two volumes into one, it’s a beautiful melodic journey through dance music featuring some of his best releases to date such as SOL and One Day. This has been a huge year for Eric Prydz and he just recently announced that he would be releasing his first album under his own name entitled Opus in February. We can only wait and see what the master has in store for us in the future.
14. Brodinski – Brava
Bromance headmaster Louis Brodinski has been mixing, producing, and innovating in the industry for more than a decade, so it’s no surprise his very first full length album was a complete encapsulation of his hip-hop infused, tech heavy talents. Brodi, who made headlines in 2014 for his work on Kanye’s Yeezus – has been an OG in the game for longer than we can remember. Featuring some of Louie’s favorite rappers, Bloody Jay, SD, and Slim Thug – the album is an intrinsically bold representation of everything the Parisian producer loves – the rock star lifestyle and everything it entails. Album wise, it’s a giant neon sign, glowing in the name of Brodi’s passion for the fusion of hip hop and electronic. His ultimate superpower is blending the two genres in an effortless, heavy hitting way. Some songs follow the heavy, viscous flow of pure, thick promethazine, while others jump and flash like a club in Berlin. Each of the 14 tracks is melodic, and expertly created.
13. Floating Points – Elaenia
If Radiohead made love to Caribou while Four Tet was watching, then Sam Shepherd would be the name of the room service maid that accidentally walks in on the odd group. Better known as Floating Points, Sam made some serious noise this year with the release of his Elaenia record. Although some people might view the listen as a precise calculated piece of dance music, we felt that this thing leaned more towards improvisation, with a free-form jazz feel. The rhythms are complex whereas the sonic soundscapes carry the listener to a delicate land of ominous angst.
12. Big Data – 2.0
Alan Wilkis’s Big Data project challenged the concepts of pop music with his album 2.0. The album is filled with an array of features from Jamie Lidell to Kimbra and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. The record touches on the catchy elements of pop music while applying a playfully experimental edge of electronic production. The record creates a mysteriously odd feeling that is backed by distorted bass lines and big-beat rhythms, whereas the vocal features makes it a fairly accessible listen.
11. Kill The Noise – Occult Classic
From start to finish Kill the Noise’s debut album lives up to it’s highly anticipated release. You’re immediately thrown back into KTN’s world that he’s meticulously created over the years, when you’re greeted by slamming chants from the first collaborator on the album, Aaron Bruno of AWOLENATION. Flowing in and out of taking jabs at cliches of the EDM industry, KTN has no fucks to give when it comes to being brutality honest. He makes sure he spends enough time calling out artist managers for being overbearing and ragging on the drug addicts (with Feed Me) who give real producers a bad rep. The creme de le creme of KTN’s trolling on this Occult Classic is by far when Dillon Francis and him created, “Dolphin on Wheels,” which was a satire on the manipulation of animal sounds similar to those heard in sounds like jungle terror. As comical as a majority of his most tracks are, his production is always on point and this album is a testament to that. KTN’s been on the forefront of dubstep and drum and bass for his entire career, being a tastemaker as to what’s particularly hot at the moment within those genres. As most of us had already predicted, future house was a consistency throughout new releases this year and KTN finalized that thought with some of the best adaptions of the rising genre through Occult Classic.
10. Arca – Mutant
Alejandro Ghersi, better known by his stage name Arca, has been gaining a lot of popularity recently after producing for artists such as Kanye and FKA Twigs, as well as his critically acclaimed 2014 record Xen. His latest record Mutant finds this producer exploring even further into his world of harsh and mysterious sounds. While this album is still very experimental, the rhythms and melodies are more consistent, which makes it accessible to a wider audience. About half of the tracks on here are very noisy and the other half are beautiful melodic pieces. Tracks such as “Vanity”, “Mutant”, and “Snakes” stand out among the rest because they perfectly balance the two.
9. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
Deacon takes a stab at some more zany electro-pop music with his 7th full length on Domino Records, the same label as Animal Collective. Gliss Riffer takes the goodness of psychedelia and the obscurity of noise and meshes it into dance music in a way that’s unparalleled by others in music. What you’ll find on this record is a ton of strange samples, exuberant synthesizers, loops, and vocal melodies that sound like they are coming from a nightmarish children’s cartoon.
8. Shlohmo – Dark Red
Over the years Shlohmo has proved himself to be one of the most ambitious beat producers in the game. He always discovers a way to push the concepts that construct our modern day electronic music. Soft-sounds and mysterious sample work is his specialty, and although the production is not in your face, music lovers from far and wide have always noticed something strangely different about this guy. In Dark Red, Shlohmo pushes towards an evil sound, something that evokes powerful emotions through his delicate layering and obscure musical sequences. If a robot fell into a sad psychedelic trip then this album would be the soundtrack to that with all of its lowest points of frustration coexisting with the beautiful moments of life and love.
7. The Chemical Brothers – Born In The Echoes
The legendary Chemical Brothers have had a spectacular year, playing at many major festivals and releasing their 8th studio album, which is what every fan of the duo ever wanted. The record contains a solid amount of dance tracks that bring out the best in the Bros, their ability to entrance the listener with funky hypnotic rhythms and over the top samples creates a playful vibe for a handful of tracks. Still, the techno influence is always there as a lot of these tracks build with anxiety driven repetition. They maintain peace with the more darker ambient tracks, proving that sound design can open up the same amount of euphoria as dance music. The tracks that stood out to us the most had to have been Go, Wo Ha (a bonus track on the album), and Radiate. Each one a different feel from the other, it really makes you appreciate the versatility of their composition and production style. This album is a definite must listen for any fan of music.
6. Alison Wonderland – Run
The trap scene had to make way this year for the rise of Alison Wonderland, a 29-year-old producer based out of Sydney Australia. This record puts a spin on the familiar genre with Alison’s euphorically captivating vocal melodies and minimally banging beats. She presents ideas that are catchy and dance-worthy yet they come off extremely artistic and personal. The attitude on this album is almost disturbing in a way, for example, the track U Don’t Know drops into a strange heavy banger with cute vocal lines that mimic the fantasy like world of Sleigh Bells. Run feels like what trap music has been needing for a while and it’s almost surprising how simple yet divine Alison’s ideas come off.
5. Sophie – Product
The debut album from London-based producer Sophie is the perfect peak of artistry for all the hype he has built over the past two years. Indeed, Product features the past two EPs that brought Sophie to the spotlight with an additional 4 tracks of raw, unprotected, bubble gum inspired trap music that challenges the core concepts of sound design. The strange sounds in his music are created through the shaping of waveforms, rather than the use of samples. This allows for a unique consistency in his music. His infatuation with sexy high pitched vocals adds an accessible feel to the otherwise mind-melting sounds and arrangement of his beats. Overall this is a really weird listen but we cannot deny its organic quality, something that feels lost in the over saturated genres of EDM.
4. Lapalux – Lustmore
Lapalux’s sophomore LP brings together an extremely innovative approach to eclectic beat music. Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label always presents the best taste with heavy influence from jazz, hip hop, and R&B. Lustmore is a collection that progresses through tension in each track, the slow and subtle buildups create depth with the dreamy sound design. The record will put you in a state of relaxation with the aquatic synthesis and reverb drenched synths. The records to keep an unpredictable element at every turn and we’d recommend to anyone craving some gentle mind tripping music.
3. Claptone – Charmer
The anonymous witch doctor known as Claptone has released his debut album this year and its easily one of our favorite house records we’ve came across. The record is full of German tech-house beats and infectious vocal features from artists including the legendary Peter Bjorn and John. Claptone elicits a dirty underground feel to what he would describe as “organic house”. The way we see it, this guy is reinventing the genre by using natural sounds and soul-inspired chord progressions. The musical element is a big part of his style, unlike the majority of atonal tech house. Charmer lies on the fine line between club music and pop music, we don’t imagine it fitting in either genre yet it satisfies the needs and feelings of both parties. Aesthetic is extremely important in today’s day-and-age and we feel that Claptone has nailed every part of it; from his mysterious personality to his minimal music and 60’s psychedelia sampling, everything connects to create a consistently beautiful concept.
2. Jamie xx – In Colour
It’s difficult to deny the amount of impact Jamie xx has had on the festival circuit the past few years. His skills as a DJ has made him an in-demand artist whereas his history with the acclaimed trio the xx made him the next best thing for those looking to blend a variety of contemporary indie music with modern festival dance breaks. Still, nothing could have prepared the world for the amount of ambition Jamie would bring to the table with In Colour. The release is almost an extension to the xx’s powerful embodiment, with features from both members Romy and Oliver Sim to tie in their influence and connection to Jamie. In Colour feels like a collection of breathtaking musical moments that are surrounded by ethereal soundscapes of musical bliss. His ability to minimally arrange gentle sounds in a way that compliments the sub bass boom of UK underground music creates something different than anything we’ve heard. Jamie xx is obviously a big fan of soul records and his arrangement speaks of this older quality whereas his production abilities feel like a voice of the future. This album feels like the climax to everything that Jamie has done for the past 4 years, from his 2011 Essential Mix to his countless remixes and DJ sets, this is the first solid release from him as a solo artist and we’re looking forward to a career full of timeless albums to follow.
1. Rudimental – We the Generation
Is this record better than every other one on this list? Definitely not. In the realms of music criticism everything is subjective one way or another. What made Rudimental’s album top our list is it’s spot on arrangement, consistency, production, and songwriting, I knew this album was gonna be it after just one listen. Although I am a strong believer that the greatest music is the one that takes time to grow on you, I feel as though Rudimental slashes those beliefs by proving that a pop record can evoke just as much emotion and energy without being too obscure in composition. Quite frankly, the majority of albums on this list made it because of their strange experimental nature as though the most innovative is also the most experimental. Still, We The Generation reveals a deeper inspiration with underground dance music, soul, and jazz, yet they mask it over an accessible facade that creates one of the most enjoyable listens of 2015.
At this point everyone and their mums have seen Rudimental at one festival or another, their massive stage presence complimented their debut album nicely as they toured for the majority of 2013 and 2014. We The Generation does not drift far from their style, they’ve always maintained a consistent edge by blending soul inspired pop music with drum and bass, some consider them the Disclosure of DnB. Rather than face a new sound, Rudimental went full force in perfecting what they are already great at. Every single track on this album sounds like a hit. I’ve yet to find another record recently that has this effect. The infectious vocal hooks, expert instrumental accompaniment, and ridiculous electronic dance production remains 100% through the entirety of the album. Each song is a symphony in that its parts elevate each other and end with great climax. The guest vocal features, including a few from Ed Sheeran, add diversity to the tracks, while the concepts of dance music flow rapidly within the veins of the instrumentals. This album is top notch, every aspect is perfection and we have to give it to Rudimental for pulling together the most solid release in dance music of 2015.
Special thanks to Josh, Matt, Fadi, and Sydney for helping me write these reviews.