By Nicholas Senior
For those that don’t regularly read this site (not judging you, but come on!), it may be a surprise to find out that I listen to anything other than metal. Yes, when I emerge from my basement or listen to music outside my headphones, I happen to have a particular appreciation for indie-style electronic music. My appreciate for 80s-style music is quite apparent (and understandable, with its recent resurgence), and you’ll forgive me if some of these aren’t “technically” electronic albums. For me, I like my synths and basslines loud and my melodies as hooky as the Captain in Peter Pan.
1. Big Data – 2.0 (Wilcassettes)
This is such a joy to listen to; it’s one of those records that exudes pure sonic bliss. Alan Wilkis calls his sound “paranoid electronic pop”, and it’s the perfect description for 2.0. It’s an album that feels exceptionally modern, both in its mix of dance subgenres (you’ll hear nods to Nero and MSTRKRFT) and how the lyrics touch on how we interact with the internet. It’s something we should love and fear, and it’s that scary relationship that is effectively played out. The fact that this guest-feature-heavy album feels so coherent and is so consistently enjoyable is quite an accomplishment.
2. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School (Mom & Pop Music)
Against all odds (and an unfortunate robbery), Alan Palomo rose out of the ashes to create one of the best electronic albums in recent memory. This awkwardly-named record is probably the best dance record of 2015, built on the strength of a more polished sound a a razor-sharp set of hooks. Tracks like “Annie”, “The Glitzy Hive”, and “Slumlord” are as catchy as any number of soulless EDM tracks adorning your “bro” friend’s “DANCE MIX 2K15” playlist, but Alan’s wonderful ability to craft impeccably catchy tracks is miles ahead of his EDM brethren (and lady-ren?). Call this a great dance record, and don’t feel guilty admitting it.
3. Chvrches – Every Open Eye (Glassnote)
Every Open Eye was doomed for failure before it launches. Chvrches’ debut was one of my (and many, many others’) favorite pop records released in the last few years. The Scottish band’s sound perfectly distilled emo angst, dancefloor-ready jams, and pop hooks to release something that connected with so many people. Lauren Mayberry’s voice and lyrics were pitch-perfect, and the arrangements felt like, despite their electronic base, something a rock band would write.Every Open Eye smartly doesn’t try to mix things up too much. It smartly sees the band smoothing out its sound to great results. My hopes were in the stratosphere, so the fact that this wasn’t a disappointment is a wonderful achievement.
4. Steven A. Clark – The Lonely Roller (Secretly Canadian)
Generally speaking, love songs stink. This may be somewhat ironic given that, oftentimes, love stinks, but it’s a minor miracle that Steven’s lovelorn songs of lost love and regret are so damn compelling. This may not be a strictly electronic record, but it sounds like a lovely mix of 80s synthpop meeting up with the best of The Weeknd’s downtrodden R&B. Songs don’t get much catchier than “Not You” and “Time Machine”, but tracks like “Trouble Baby” are exquisite.
5. Gunship – S/T (Horsie in the Hedge)
One of my favorite discoveries this year is the burgeoning synthwave scene. This new-wave-y style builds on the synth-heavy horror soundtracks of the 80s, most notably the films of John Carpenter. Gunship are one of the rare examples that feature vocals, and as the side project of Fightstar’s Alex Westaway and Dan Haigh, the songs on this debut are fantastic. This is a lovely retro release with excellent melodies and a more relaxed atmosphere compared to other synthwave artists. I discovered this on a long drive through the PA and Ohio turnpikes, and the best praise I can give it is that Gunship made that drive a blast. “Tech Noir” is a masterpiece.
6. Mutemath – Vitals (Wojtek)
Mutemath is a weird band that has flown a bit under the radar, in part because they haven’t made the same record twice. A very persuasive argument could be made that Vitals, their first on their own imprint, is the best version of the band. We see the same building blocks that make all of their records a delight: nimble bass-lines, dexterous guitar and synth melodies, and Paul Meany’s playful vocals. Most of the album sounds like early Minus the Bear gone full synthpop. Long-time fans will revel in the subtle math rock foundation, while the rest of us will appreciate the band going all-in on previous hints that a great synth rock band was hidden within the band. A playful very fun release, for sure.
7. Purity Ring – Another Eternity (4AD)
Purity Ring were one of the trailblazers in fusing synthpop with hip hop. The group’s debut Shrines showcased Megan James’ lovely voice high atop wistful synths and trap beats. The group doesn’t quite stick the landing on follow-upAnother Eternity, but this is one of those albums where the highs are so impressive that the rest (however great) feels lesser by comparison. “Begin Again” is probably my favorite song released this year, and it’s a testament to the group’s talent that a good portion of this album keeps up with that quality. By doubling down on bombastic arrangements and ethereal vocals, Purity Ring continues to be jarringly beautiful and brash.
8. GosT – Behemoth (Blood Music)
This is another synthwave instant classic. GosT sounds like someone threw a dance party in the middle of slasher, and it’s awesome. Sure, there are points where it can get a bit noisy, but GosT tackles electronic music like a modern metal producer: everything is turned up to 11. However, it’s his impressive songwriting skills that allow this to be a wonderful (albeit horrifying) listen, evoking different parts of a bloody movie in your head.
9. Young Galaxy – Falsework (Paper Bag)
Canada’s indie scene has been stellar for quite some time, and Young Galaxy appear to be one of the next great artists. By toning down their shoegaze elements for a more lounge-style electronic sound, the Montreal-based group shines. Despite some upbeat numbers, Young Galaxy works best as a cheerful, relaxing listen. It was a late addition to the list, but those looking for a stellar, understated pop record, get on Young Galaxy; they are, indeed, ready to shine.
10. Tame Impala – Currents (Interscope)
This is a record that feels like we’re catching an artist in mid transformation. Kevin Parker’s past records were solid exercises in Beatles-esque pop/rock, but by trading in jangle-y guitars for lonesome synths and propulsive bass-lines, Tame Impala is becoming something much more interesting. Kevin’s inherent talent for pop hooks feels much better utilized here, and songs like “Let It Happen” and “The Less I Know The Better” are 80s synthpop gems.