The Best Electronic Albums of 2017

Sam Ribakoff breaks down his favorite electronic releases of 2017.
By    December 11, 2017

yaeji

Starting with this year end list, I’m going to try and keep the monthly electronic music rundown going into next year on Passion of the Weiss, with the goal of trying as hard as I can to find and champion important, experimental, and progressive electronic music, as I don’t think many other sites are doing that apart from RA and Fact. It’s my, probably overly optimistic belief, that the same energy, commitment, intelligence, sincerity, and finesse that goes into organizing a protest, a political party, or a movement features the same qualities that go into organizing a good dance party. With that being said, here’s the best electronic music of this godforsaken year. — Sam Ribakoff


 AshTreJinkins — Fruit in Failure


It constantly amazes me how AshTreJinkins, sometimes known as Brown Irvin, nails in on a sound I can only refer to as “riding on an empty freeway in the backseat of your friend’s car at 3 AM coming back from a party and having a life epiphany music.” Tracks like “Paradise Quotes” on Fruit in Failure perfectly encapsulates that sound, while tracks like “Skitz” hooks in on a vibe that sounds like the future of boogie funk and “But I Got You This Haunted House Baby” touches on space house g-funk. AshTreJinkins is constantly looking towards the future of electronic music while acknowledging and incorporating the genre’s past, especially the history of L.A.’s unique history of synthesising dance and hip hop music. The Egyptian Love, Ice-T, and Battlecat should be proud.


 Visible Cloaks — Reassemblage


Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile are two white guys from Portland that got way too into a very specific kind of Japanese electronic and ambient music from the 1980s. For what seems like a brief moment in the mid 1980s, Japanese musicians like Hiroshi Yoshimura, Susumu Yokota, and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono put out ambient music records that sounded like a peaceful garden on the rooftop of an apartment in Akira’s Neo Tokyo, or a robot gently tending to a wilting flower. Using synths to build tranquil landscapes around electronically processed acoustic percussion and traditional Japanese instruments, the music is an amazing synthesis of the electronic present, and the acoustic future, to create a collaborative and harmonious vision of the future.

Through the sinister magic of Youtube’s recommended video algorithm, if you find one of these albums on Youtube, you’ll be greeted with an endless list of recommended videos for all the other albums made in the same aesthetic around the same time. I can only imagine Spencer and Ryan spending hours soaking this music in before forming Visible Cloaks. Their debut album isn’t a simple attempt at swagger jacking that Japanese sound though. On Reassemblage, Visible Cloaks is able to craft a sound that manages to both add to the movement’s palette, with surprising, but gently shifting synth, vibraphone, and woodwind, melodies and textures. They also keep in dialogue with the original sound by making it sound just as at home in the foggy forests of the Pacific Northwest as in Japan.


 House of Kenzo — Bonfires of Urbanity


A three track, seven minute, collection on Soundcloud is barely even an EP, but who the fuck cares anymore? House of Kenzo is a collective of artists, producers, DJs, dancers, and all around creative group of queer kids from San Antonio, Texas. On Bonfires of Urbanity, released through Vice’s deceased electronic music site THUMP (rest in power), House of Kenzo rip through conventions of club, dance, and metal music, disregarding all standards of orthodoxy, and in the process come out the other end with a sound made up of sonic embattled fury and forceful liberation. This is club music that’s as impassioned and political as anything Woody Guthrie ever wrote.


 Deena Abdelwahed — Klabb


Klabb is a totally underrated EP from Deena Abdelwahed, a Tunisian DJ/Producer who mixes Middle Eastern percussion and North African rhythms with an eye towards club music aesthetics and footwork. On Klabb, it’s really surprising to hear Deena Abdewahed sound awfully close to a slowed down version of Jlin, especially on tracks like “Walk on, Nothing to See Here,” which seems like it uses the same chopped and stretched vocals that are all over Jlin’s Black Origami. While Deena might be influenced by Jlin, she definitely has her own voice, and I think the similarities have more to do with both her and Jlin being onto the same ideas than it does any sort of swagger jacking.


 Sela — Sell Your Life/Internet Money


You might recognize one of his tracks from this Vine from a couple of years back, but if not, Sela is a kid out in Vallejo, California who’s been hustling on Bandcamp for a couple of years, making what can only be described as ambient footwork music. This is music that stretches the constraints of mere seconds of a sample from an obscure ’80s R&B song, and morphs it into melancholy soundscapes, occasionally with banging footwork drums. But on Sell Your Life|Internet Money, Sela takes those same abilities at sampling and adds them into a house music framework. On tracks like “Everytime,” Sela builds and builds a multilayered ambient sample, teasing with a pulsating hi-hat and a bass drum until it explodes into a club ready deep house groove, only to sink back into ambient waves, and then finally into a kind of chopped and screwed R&B sample meltdown. Like his experiments in footwork, Sela tackles house music with an ear unlike anybody else in the game.


 B. Cool-Aid — BRWN


It’s a little weird calling this album from producer Ahwlee and rapper Pink Siifu “electronic music.” Although there are electronic instruments and samples all over BRWN, it’s most definitely hip hop, with Ahwlee’s signature style of cool boom bap drums, silky bass lines, and gentle soulful keys paired with Pink Siifu’s rapping like a lazy Sunday morning getting high with your friends. Between the way BRWN is mixed and the way that Ahwlee and Pink Siifu vibe together on this album, the vocals often sink into the center of the production, emanating deep within the bass from the keys, until it sounds like an experimental collage of lazy memories of friends, lovers, and episodes of Martin.


 Kerri Chandler — DJ-Kicks


The best description of this compilation comes from the dude compiler himself. At the start of the album you hear a bit of ambient street sounds from New York City, and then, a voice from the crowd says, “Hey. Come here, I want to show you something. I just want to take you on a little trip through my city, my life, through my journeys, with love, respect, and admiration.” The next hour and 12 minutes of the album gently weaves its way from mid tempo disco, soul, boogie, jazz funk, and hip hop tracks, never really leaving that tempo, or a sultry, sweaty, New York summer night vibe.


 Jlin — Black Origami


I can’t wait until Jlin and Freddie Gibbs do a Jackson 5 tribute album live from Gary Indiana, but until then, I know Jlin will keep bringing the heat. On her debut album, Dark Energy, Jlin paid tribute to her footwork roots while launching off into indescribably polyrhythmic bursts of percussion and ominous noise. On Black Origami, Jlin takes the experiments of Dark Energy, adds an extra dose of musical ideas from the Middle East and North Africa, and crafts little symphonies where wild syncopation crafts melodies and forms harmonies.


 Daedelus — Wears House


If you’ve ever spent hours looking at Youtube videos of U.K. raves in the ’80s, wishing that the audio was a lot better so you could hear the M.C. blurt out the names of pirate radio stations, obscure parties, and producers that made one track and then all became computer programmers, than Wears House is what you gotta do for yourself. The first side was culled together from multiple bootleg recordings of those original storied U.K. raves from the ’80s and ’90s.

In classic Daedelus fashion, the best moments of the mix is when Daedelus finds a little moment in the mix, not even necessarily of music, but of a M.C. yelling his brains out, and somehow finds a way to loop it and build other tracks on top of it to make it sound like the fucking Four Tops harmonizing. But the real treat on here is Side B, where Daedelus tries to imagine a future rave, filled with breakneck Drum and Bass rhythms, footwork, and Daedelus’ own sense of beautiful musical chaos.


 bastiengoat — culp


My favorite footwork tracks are ones that hold on tight to a sample, then loop it and cut it into oblivion, finding beautiful new modes in the cracks in between the melodies. My second favorite kind of footwork tracks are the straight, wild, footwork remixes, tracks that speed up rap, pop, and soul records,and add those sweet, sweet footwork triplets and 808 bombs. bastiengoat’s culp is mostly comprised of straight footwork remixes that are thoughtfully sequenced in the album’s tracklist.


 Galcher Lustwerk — Dark Bliss


White people messed up Robert Hood’s minimal techno sound and were somehow able to convince every hip hotel bar and cool person DJ the world over to play their music. Galcher Lustwerk is hopefully putting an end to this KCRW after dark music. On Dark Bliss, he takes the distorted, mysterious aesthetics of lo-fi house, the sharp bass lines of minimal techno, a little bit of husky monotone Detroit booty music reminisced vocals, and crafts pop music out of minimal techno.


 Benedek — Bene’s World


Benedek’s world has gotta be full of neon colors, hair spray, and aesthetically pleasing pink and purple mood lights. This album sounds like instrumental Nocera of “Summertime, Summertime” fame b-sides. Somewhere in the middle of, but running parallel to, Dam Funk’s boogie music and New York freestyle music from the ’80s, Bene’s World is a really enjoyable homage to summer-y, sweaty, uplifting, mid tempo dance music.


 yaeji — EP2


I have a real soft spot for female monotone singers. From Astrud Gilberto, to Trish Keenan from Broadcast, that cool yet tender style gets me every time, so the first time I heard yaeji I was on board from the first word. But listening to EP2 makes it apparent that there’s a lot more to her than just her monotone. From her own solid productions of floating ambient synth pads, smooth New York house inspired bass lines, and drums that hit that four on the floor itch and sputter like trap drums when when you least expect, yaeji is the complete package. I hope yaeji sticks around for awhile and keeps helping make house music fun again.


 Chino Amobi — Paradiso


If you’ve ever tried to get into what’s sometimes just broadly referred to as “extreme music,” all the millions of varieties of metal music, industrial music, and noise music, you’ll soon find yourself looking at band and album artwork that plays with the aesthetics of fascism, and more often than not you’ll find that those bands just don’t like to play Nazi, they are Nazis, or some other sort of vile white supremacist. As someone who occasionally gets in a black metal or noise music mood, I often find myself looking up interviews with a band before I listen to them, just to see if I have to dead the band before I even give them a listen.

On Paradiso, Chino Amobi—one of the main members of the NON collective—makes industrial and noise tracks for leftists, playing with mysticism, history, and poetry to construct a dissonant soundtrack through a futuristic hellscape. The album opens up to beautiful tracks towards its end, with cuts like “The Floating World PT.1” and the creepy calm of “Law III (Adam)” assisted by members of the NON Collective. Paradiso acknowledges the violence of the past and the darkness of the present but points towards a future that’s a little brighter, a little more progressive, and a lot more black, brown, and queer.


 Suzanne Kraft and Johnny Nash — Passive Aggressive


Ambient and new age music gets pegged as boring, pretentious, and simple. Anyone can get on GarageBand, find a synth patch sound, turn up the reverb and echo effects, and just drone out on a couple of chords for as long as you can. I get it, but you can’t play folks like Suzanne Kraft and Johnny Nash like that. On Passive Aggressive, warm synth sounds hang in the back, while mahogany wood stately piano, and rich, delicate caring bass lines play off each other. Melodies emerge out of the tones of the interplay between the acoustic and electronic sounds, sonically offering you a warm blanket to take a well deserved rest in, and some Mexican hot chocolate to wake up to.

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