The 10 Best Electronic Albums of 2017

Treble staff
best electronic albums of 2017

New York City Council this year voted to repeal a Prohibition Era cabaret law that prevented dancing in most public places. This is kind of a big deal, for a couple reasons: 1. It meant that somehow even the worst laws can somehow exist for nearly a century without reappraisal, and 2. Progress is still possible. In the early ’00s, countless dancepunk songs were written about the lousy laws on the books in New York City that kept people from getting down, and now that seems to be over. But did anybody really feel like dancing this year? Based on our survey of the best electronic albums of the year, that might be debatable. People used synths and samplers. People harnessed beats. People used weird effects through which to scream into the void. But dancing? If it happened, it probably wasn’t disco. Our list of the best electronic albums of the year is itchy, angsty, uncomfortable and weird—more so than usual.


best electronic albums of 2017 Soulwax10. Soulwax
From DeeWee

(PIAS)

There are people who take roads less traveled, and then there are people who think, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” Soulwax are such thrillseekers, using From Deewee to create their signature music in an unimaginably difficult manner. In one astounding 48-minute take the Dewaele brothers, their bandmates, endless vintage synths and session musicians construct a set of music embracing the gurgle and whirr of Soulwax’s blog-house-inspired reinvention. Y’all may argue that’s an already-dated torch to bear. I offer the counterpoint that this LP moves your ass more than American Dream does, and it’s not even close. – AB


best electronic albums of 2017 Mount Kimbie9. Mount Kimbie
Love What Survives

(Warp)

Bass music is a shitty catch-all to begin with, and Love What Survives might be chillwave only for moments at a time. Is this bedroom or hypnagogic pop? Is it straight singer-songwriter material with an electronica bent? Whatever it is, this duo join their contemporary, friend and guest vocalist James Blake on a rising arc up out of dubstep and post-dubstep into something broader and less defined. The high-speed BPMs and half-time variations in those genres feel distant in Mount Kimbie’s rearview, replaced by songs with actual rock-band subtleties like vocal/lyrical themes (“Marilyn” with Micachu) and thorough arrangements (in post-punk assemblages such “Audition” and “Delta”). It suggests the title is missing a comma: Love, what remains—as in, that’s all that’s left after a nearly complete transformation of sound and vision. – AB


best electronic albums of 2017 Pharmakon8. Pharmakon
Contact

(Sacred Bones)

In past years, the idea of a noise-industrial record built around ideas of community and empathy might have yielded a cockeyed response from anyone not already immersed in tape-trading worlds, but these are strange times indeed. Margaret Chardiet, after having previously documented a life-altering experience of organ failure, looks outward on her third album, which in alphabetical sequence begins with C. Contact is a primal scream with a purpose, its shrill drones and rumbling frequencies backing a desperate plea for acknowledgement that the world we have—fucked up as it is—is the only one we’ve got. – JT


KMFDM Hell Yeah review Album of the Week7. KMFDM
Hell Yeah

(earMUSIC)

KMFDM—their band members and their music—have always addressed injustice and the world’s ills with tongue in cheek, or by turning the other cheek toward the nearest club. The German-bred group embraced outsized, outlandish cartoon versions of industrial dance nights and the sociopolitical themes that drove the playlists. I’ve said all this year that there’s no good reason for Hell Yeah to have resonated so loudly. There are, however, a bunch of bad ones: Trump, Brexit, Kim Jong Un, terrorism, racism, climate change. Whether by chance or by choice, Hell Yeah manages to separate serious, meaningful EBM wheat from just about all of the band’s traditionally winking chaff. It’s a pleasant surprise, and for today it’s a necessary one. – AB


best albums of 2017 Kelly Lee Owens

6. Kelly Lee Owens
Kelly Lee Owens

(Smalltown Supersound)

For those who had been paying attention in the past couple of years, British singer/songwriter and producer Kelly Lee Owens had been steadily building a dreamy, insular world of gorgeous textures and haunting shades. That didn’t make her self-titled debut any less of a revelation, however. With a firm emphasis on the pop half of ambient pop, Owens builds sumptuous melodic territory out of immersive synth tones and layers angelic vocal loops over compulsive techno beats as she does on “Arthur.” Kelly Lee Owens’ debut exists in a versatile space where dancing and meditation can coexist—and both can be experienced in solitude. – JT


Blanck Mass World Eater review5. Blanck Mass
World Eater

(Sacred Bones)

Benjamin John Power’s music has always been noisy, chaotic, forceful and wicked, always in a surreal space of its own. World Eater changed the equation by reminding the listener that Power lives on this earth too—sort of—and is just as likely as horrified as you are about the non-stop clown show of tragedy that occupies the news crawl. World Eater is like a seven-track flip through seven different channels, each one providing a different perspective on the ever-unfolding chaos. “John Doe’s Carnival of Error” is a playful tumble through whimsical melodies, as “Rhesus Negative” presents pure sensory overload, “Please” is open and human, and “Silent Treatment” is darkly militant. World Eater doesn’t attempt to make sense of why humanity keeps shooting itself in the foot, but it’s as stunning a wordless observation on our fucked-up condition as one’s likely to find. – JT


Fever Ray Plunge review4. Fever Ray
Plunge

(Mute)

I wanna love you but you’re not making it easy”—these are the first words we hear Karen Dreijer sing on “Wanna Sip,” opening her second album as Fever Ray. And holy shit, are they a false flag. Plunge is almost exclusively about permutations of love and lust, with occasional looks at their limitations and their consequences. She makes connections between the sexual and child-nurturing functions of female genitalia (“Mustn’t Hurry”), advocates for a more welcoming world for non-nuclear families (“This Country”), and pretty damn bluntly embraces getting to least third base (“To the Moon and Back”). Against a wildly shifting backdrop of beats and synths that groove and aggravate, Fever Ray seems to have beaten Björk to market on making a so-called “Tinder record.” Swipe right on this one, all day. – AB


best albums of april 2017 Arca3. Arca
Arca

(XL)

Few artists are able to translate their own body into sound the way Alejandro Ghersi (Arca) is. Since 2012 the Venezuelan has been communicating questions of gender, sexuality and soul through his hyperactive, beat-driven music. His 2017 self-titled effort saw him finally showcasing his gorgeous vocals prominently. Alongside his fellow artist and frequent collaborator Jesse Kanda, Ghersi set out on a mission to make queer music that could have a dialogue with the masses. The heaven-sent falsetto subverts gender constructs placed on the male voice. Ghersi and Kanda’s audio-visual project has culminated in an awe-inspiring salvo for the human body and a harsh referendum on the heteronormative gaze. – WW


LCD Soundsystem American Dream review2. LCD Soundsystem
American Dream

(DFA)

When LCD Soundsystem returned to the festival circuit just a couple years after what was supposed to be their last show ever, a lot of people were skeptical. They had a right to be—reunions are often little more than an excuse to receive a check, and James Murphy more than likely made a decent buck. To his credit, he reinvested it back in making new music, and American Dream—arriving at as strange a time as it has—remains true to what LCD Soundsystem has always been while shedding that part of itself to which it no longer relates. There’s no “Drunk Girls” or “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” on American Dream, just the cynical pop survey of “Tonite,” the mournful Bowie tribute “Black Screen,” the Talking Heads-style post-punk polyrhythms of “Other Voices” and the Factory Records gloom of “I Used To.” There are still pastiches, tributes and in-jokes, but the tone feels different somehow. LCD Soundsystem is maybe older and wiser, but there’s still something left to get off their chests. – JT


best albums of May Jlin1. Jlin
Black Origami

(Planet Mu)

Black Origami asks: If Jazz is black classical music then what is footwork? More specifically, what is Jlin’s footwork? The bracing, mosaic prose of DJ Rashad and RP Boo was born out of gentrified concrete. Jlin gave birth to her sound in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Since her groundbreaking 2015 debut Dark Energy Jlin has become a true global musician. Whereas she previously looked inward, Black Origami finds her reaching out to the likes of William Basinski and Holly Herndon in an effort to filter her fractured tones into something less rigid.

Jlin’s second album offered radical self-love to black femininity when such a thing was in short supply. “Nyakinyua Rise” is a stirring tribute to the Kikuyu women of Kenya. “Hatshepsut” is a cacophonic drumline honoring the spirit of history’s second female pharaoh. Sarah Foulquiere aka Fawkes offered up her gorgeous, high pitched vocals for Jlin to bring texture to on “Calcination.” It’s clear that Jlin is creating art in her own image. – WW

View Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top