2021’s best electronic albums…
This year saw a wealth of electronic music talent competing for attention, even as we still battled on through an ongoing pandemic. Among those releases, there was a good balance between effective synth-pop as well as some acts keen to take electronic music in unusual and interesting directions.
Here are 15 albums that are not presented in any particular order (aside from our top choice), but as a whole were the standout long-players for The Electricity Club in 2021.
~ ALBUM OF THE YEAR ~
GENERATION BLITZ – Dusk To Dawn
As an album, Generation Blitz was dreamed up as a creative concept that pays tribute to the musical history of the iconic Blitz club. Compiled by Martin James and Timo Jalkanen with support from Gary Fones, the album has been billed as an effort that is “reclaiming the 1980s from Stranger Things cosplayers, neon obsessives and Miami Vice nostalgics”. A sentiment of brash confidence and swagger that seems perfectly in-step with the Blitz ethos.
In delivery, the collection of music is an ambitious project that brings together a wealth of contemporary talent across 34 tracks. The cast of contributors is certainly impressive with the likes of Nature Of Wires, Parralox, The Rude Awakening, Brutalist Architecture In The Sun, LorD and Master, Blaklight, Tiny Magnetic Pets and Platronic all contributing (in some cases, providing exclusive tracks and mixes).
Generation Blitz could have easily been a simple tribute album, with a choice selection of talents providing their own takes on classic songs of the era. Instead, the album seeks to capture an ephemeral quality that invokes the vibe of the Blitz. The compilation deliberately aims for a diverse mix, which certainly includes homage moments but also a deconstruction of the sounds and styles of the period, classical-inspired synth-pop, minimalist synth punk and outsider post punk.
The result is an engaging mix of electronic music moments that certainly manages to achieve its mission statement. At the same time, it seems to also capture something of the spirit of the contemporary electronic music scene.
Album Review: GENERATION BLITZ – Dusk To Dawn
MARINA – Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land offers perhaps more spirit and more bite than Marina’s previous album, 2019’s Love + Fear (see review previously) evidenced particularly in blunt compositions such as ‘Purge the Poison’ and ‘New America’.
Consequently, the album offered up a timely collection of songs which included the feminist anthem of ‘Man’s World’ and the energetic pop of ‘Venus Fly Trap’. The powerful polemic of ‘Purge the Poison’ sees Marina casting an eye on climate change, #metoo, misogyny and pretty much all points in between. It’s one of the album’s highlights, a driving pulse-pounding pop banger that provides an earworm that’s tough to shift.
Elsewhere, there’s a graceful approach to ‘Flowers’ which is a rumination on the end of a relationship (“With every callous action/You let me slip away”). It’s a raw, stripped-down composition which relies mainly on a tinkling piano melody. ‘I Love You But I Love Me More’ is a similarly more reflective number, but here given a bolder workover thanks to some effective percussion and David Levita’s guitar work.
Album closer ‘Goodbye’ treads similar territory, a surprisingly blunt musing on loss and regret.
“Songwriting has always been a vehicle for me to explore things that challenge me, and things that upset me” commented Marina in a recent interview, “So it’s definitely tricky to organise thoughts on really important subjects, and at the end of the day, whatever people think, that’s just how I’ve been able to deal with that at the time. So you can only hope that it’s received in the way that it was intended.”
The TEC review said: “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is a stunning album and delivers one of 2021’s best pop moments.”
Album Review: MARINA – Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land
PRINCESS CENTURY – s u r r e n d e r
Discussing the catalyst on new Princess Century album s u r r e n d e r Maya Postepski summed it up: “I love pop music and it’s really hard to write good pop songs. So, this winter I locked myself in a studio and I had nothing to do because Corona sucks and I wrote all these songs.”
“It’s more poppy than I’ve done before and there’s still elements of old school Princess Century, like my classical, nerd, Steve Reich-influenced, minimalist percussion music!”
Perhaps the album’s strongest point is the bittersweet ‘Still The Same’, a composition seeped in longing and frustration matched with sumptuous, sequenced beats. Meanwhile, Postepski’s evocative vocal tops off a narrative revolving around themes of absence and loss (“You’re still the same/But I need you now/I need you more again”).
There’s more bittersweet moments lurking on ‘Desperate Love’, a composition that has a dreamy, languid quality to it with its warbling low-key synths and buzzy, insistent beats.
Obviously there’s also plenty of classic Princess Century at work on the album, including the electronic ruminations of its title track. There’s the beguiling ambience of instrumental number ‘Wanting You’ and also the simple euphoria present on ‘Pleasure Sequence’. There’s also nods to her more quirkier moments, particularly the burbling, squelchy soundscapes of ‘Cosmic Minivan’.
Meanwhile, one of the album’s collaborative efforts ‘Stupid Things’ offers up one of the album’s finest moments. There’s an airy touch here within its downbeat electronics – something which is definitely the purview of long-time friend and collaborator Fragrance.
In conclusion, our review saw s u r r e n d e r as “an elegiac album wrapped in themes of lost love and yearning, but also with a beauty at its heart.”
Album Review: PRINCESS CENTURY – s u r r e n d e r
SPRAY – Ambiguous Poems About Death
In 2019, Spray’s album Failure Is Inevitable was one of our albums of the year. 2021’s follow-up album Ambiguous Poems About Death throws out sharp, electronic pop with a smattering of social commentary, particularly via the COVID-inspired ‘Hammered In an Airport’ and ‘We’ll Look Back On This And Laugh’. Elsewhere, there’s lyrical narratives on public figures, dysfunctional relationships and space cats or, as the duo describe it, “Spray’s tried and tested formula of overblown escapism.”
Nestling away in the album’s tracklisting were the gauzy ‘Blurred in the Background’, a witty zinger of a track whose lyrics allude to those people less keen on having their faces front and centre. ‘Félicette (Space Cat)’, in which Spray’s knack for synth hooks kicks this tune into high gear against a charming little lyrical narrative.
Elsewhere, there was the squelchy disco of ‘Hammered In an Airport’ with Jenny adopting a spoken monologue (a kind of synth-pop Faithless if you will). Here, some odd lyrical couplets are delivered (“We should have cheesecake/We should have heartbreak”) against a deep musical groove.
It also wouldn’t be a Spray album without some commentary on relationships gone wrong. On that basis, the soft synths of ‘Douche Canoe’ provides a list of culturally specific annoyances that most people can relate to (“You spent the week organising your Zoom bookshelves”).
Ambiguous Poems About Death has a softer aspect compared to Spray’s previous entries, our review concluded indicating perhaps a more mature approach to the pop duo. At the same time, the clever commentary and sharp wit remains present and correct.
Album Review: SPRAY – Ambiguous Poems About Death
WARRINGTON-RUNCORN NEW TOWN DEVELOPMENT PLAN – Interim Report, March 1979
There’s a touch of hauntology at work in this oddly evocative album, with its liminal soundscapes and uniquely British sensibility. Interim Report, March 1979 comes care of record label Castles in Space, who seem keen to champion music that exists out there at the frayed edges of the electronic music genre.
The inspired mind behind the album is Gordon Chapman Fox, who viewed the concept as a statement on Cheshire’s brutalist beauty, particularly in the new town post-war developments of Warrington and Runcorn.
Part of the hypnotic draw of the material comes from the track titles, which have a combination of utopian dreams and drab reality: ‘Castlefields’, ‘The Town Of Tomorrow’ and ‘Gateway To The Future’ could easily be subtitles from some lost property brochure. There’s a sense of optimism that’s been dented, which serves up strange, mesmerising moments that have an unsettling quality lurking in their depths. This deliberate effort to capture a sound that reflected the brutalist architecture of the new towns was also a push against scripting something too familiar. “It seemed like there were a lot of ersatz-soundtracks to lost John Carpenter films, or obscure giallo “classics”” offers Chapman Fox, “I preferred to find inspiration from the surreality of the mundane.”
LAST OF THE FALLEN ANGELS – Radio Babylon
There are times when an album jumps out at you purely on the basis of the names contributing to it. Case in point is Radio Babylon, a new album courtesy of music collective Last Of The Fallen Angels.
Conceived by Conrad McQueen as part of music collective Last Of The Fallen Angels, Radio Babylon brought together Peter Hook (New Order), Brinsley Forde (Aswad) and Rowetta (Happy Mondays) plus other singers and musicians from around the world to raise money for Musicians Against Homelessness/CRISIS.
The album showcases an eclectic mix of tracks, including ‘Kisses’, which features the unmistakable bass of Peter Hook on a very downbeat, dreampop affair. Beccy Owen’s vocals have a deep emotive allure to them via lines such as “You took my pain away”. Conversely, ‘Ivory Tower’ is a harsher, more aggressive outing care of Tara Tine’s freestyling vocal approach – an energetic, angry outing with some dynamic guitar and percussion.
‘Change Has Gotta Come’ pulls in Brinsley Forde and Rowetta on a smoky, dub-filled outing whose lyrics drive straight to the point (“Sister can you help me/Get the homeless off the street?”). The additional brass elements also give the song an organic, weighty feel. The evocative ‘Bowie In Berlin’, featuring Laura Rickenbacker & Jeff Black, is (as you might expect) a love letter to Bowie’s German period. Dominated by some strident piano tones, it’s a wonderfully engaging composition with a human heart to it.
Radio Babylon boasts the production flourishes of Simon Ellis (Spice Girls, Westlife, S Club 7, Britney Spears), so delivers a polished and warm collection of songs. As our review stated: “It’s also an album that carries a vital message which, as Christmas approaches, seems ever more important.”
Album Review: LAST OF THE FALLEN ANGELS – Radio Babylon
PARAGON CAUSE – Autopilot
Paragon Cause demonstrate an uncanny knack for combining twilight electronics and guitar riffs to craft evocative, bittersweet musical moments.
Autopilot, which represents the duo’s third studio album, features the stunning ‘Making Up For Lost Time’, a song which we summed up as “an emotional tidal wave” in our review at the time. The song’s fuzzy layers of guitars gives the entire composition a warm, immersive vibe that’s tough to shake off.
Elsewhere, ‘Two To Play’ has a dirty bass grunge along with some nice synth fills. ‘I’m Not Here’ is a bigger, bolder effort with Opthof’s vocals front and centre with dark synth tones battling with chugging guitars.
The wistful pop of ‘Disconnected’, penned as a statement against the downsides of social media, plays more to Paragon Cause’s strengths: An uplifting exercise which has elements of 60s girl groups weaved into the mix. ‘More Than We Can Handle’ employs a slower approach with its spaced-out guitar and Opthof’s haunting vocal refrains.
Autopilot, as an album, is another example of Paragon Cause’s winning guitar crush approach.
Album Review: PARAGON CAUSE – Autopilot
The electro-goth duo of Dead Lights serve up brooding, muscular compositions that still have a dance beat to them. Consisting of Saul (aka Mr Strange) and Richard Van Kruysdijk (Palais Ideal), the duo aim for a visceral, raw quality to the songs on the album which it certainly delivers on.
The Poe-inspired ‘The Raven’ has, naturally, a goth veneer all over it. Here, Mr Strange’s vocals have a particularly doleful quality, delivering lines such as “I’m an angel playing in reverse” with a dark relish. At the same time, it offers up a contrasting uplift on the chorus, which is surprisingly effective.
The edge-lined starkness of ‘Plastic Girl’ lends a sense of unease in its moody beats. Elsewhere, there’s a bleak science fiction sheen to ‘The Future’ with its post-apocalyptic vibes. “Farewell to everything/Dust and ruins” is fairly unambiguous as a visual image.
‘Deleted Scenes’ offers up perhaps the darkest outing on the album, inspired by disturbing stories from within the porn industry. The composition boasts machine-like rhythms, while Saul’s drained vocals have a sour taste to them. Certainly, lines such as “Lurid pleasures/Seep and drip on the set” have a suitably seedy feel to them.
The excellent ‘Insekt’ seems to distil the Dead Lights ethos in a perfect combination of bold, dark beats and an almost physical presence to the vocals. “Obscene and perfect” sums it up.
Album Review: DEAD LIGHTS
FRAGRANCE. – Salt Water
French musical genius Matthieu Roche returned with new album Salt Water. Co-produced with Sophia Hamadi, the press release for the album suggests that Salt Water “…goes deeper than ever into melancholic and dark sounds, while always keeping a distant light towards which the soft voice and fragile words of Matthieu Roche guide us.”
‘Forevermore’ is a pacy effort that combines an insistent beat along with Roche’s whispery narrative. Similarly, ‘Attiré Par le Chaos’ merges its electronic percussion with a sense of charm.
On ‘Twisted Way’, there’s a much more laidback approach. The composition’s plaintive melody and Roche’s reflective voice lend the album a suitable pause. Elsewhere, there’s a nostalgic lilt to ‘The Cure’, featuring sublime guest vocals via Jennifer Medina (Lulannie), via its washed-out piano tones. The rest of the track has a hymnal quality lurking in its depths that make this one of the album’s highlights.
There’s something particularly heartfelt about ‘Covered In Gold’ (a composition that also boasts Sophia Hamadi on backing vocals duty), an undefinable sadness captured in evocative lines such as “Silver rain, I drown/I’ve lost so much of you”.
Album Review: FRAGRANCE. – Salt Water
EMT – Electrical Medicine
EmT’s latest album release featured a variety of social commentary, coupled with an ear for dynamic synth-pop tunes. Certainly on the strength of ‘Diva’ (which TEC reviewed previously), we were offered an impressive outing that suggested good things for new album Electrical Medicine.
Consisting of Ema Walter and Tony Blue, EmT’s Electrical Medicine also features the production talents of Tim Dorney. As an album, it doesn’t seem content to stick to any one particular template or style. Electrical Medicine throws in a lot of different approaches, or as Tony Blue conceptualises it, “It has a bit of an arc.”
‘DNA’ delivers an angular affair with big percussive moments and an alluring vocal care of Ema Walter. Offering up some musings on neurodiversity, the song has a wonderfully dense electropop solidity to it.
Sometimes, the album offers up unexpected subtle pleasures, such as the lush ‘Undecided’ which showcases Ema Walter’s impressive vocal talents (“Are you in my head?”). The song also utilises a little throwaway vocal line from Walter that Tim Dorney kept as a melodic hook in the song. Its simple details like this that manage to make some of the songs on Electrical Medicine really jump out.
At the same time, the album served up more emotive offerings, such as the understated fragile beauty of ‘Vulnerability’ with its heartfelt lyrical narrative (“Don’t give me space to breathe”).
Album Review: EMT – Electrical Medicine
NATURE OF WIRES – Out Of My System
Nature Of Wires served up new album Out Of My System this year, a visceral and emotive journey across a lyrical narrative via Sarah Bouchier (aka Lady bNOW). Or, as the album’s preamble clearly states: “Songs about a coercive, controlling and ultimately doomed relationship and the consequent fallout, interspersed with tales of tragedy and deception.”
‘Cut Me Open’ offers up slow-burning angst in lines such as “Cut me open and you will see the damage you’ve done to me.” It’s a composition offset with icy synth washes and unsettling bass. Meanwhile, ‘Open the Book’ drops in some beats combined with some engaging synth hooks scattered in a subtle, yet effective way.
The album certainly featured some amazing compositions, but the stark power of the moody ‘Glass’ seemed to jump out particularly. With some passionate lyrical couplets (“You create a world of glass/Just to smash it all apart”), there’s also a bigger, bolder quality to this song that somehow manages to be uplifting and heart-breaking at the same time.
Ultimately, Out Of My System offers a cathartic quality to its collection of song. While the album takes the listener through an often-gritty journey through human nature, there’s always an element of hope to aim for.
Album Details: NATURE OF WIRES – Out Of My System
BLAKLIGHT – Into The Void
Into the Void saw the return of Blaklight which reviewer JJ Leigh suggested was “a sublime mixture of rolling synths and a dark edge provided by the voice and lyrics of Brian Belknap (Mind Machine) that resonate with the times we are living in”.
Recorded remotely, with Adam Collier, (Crush333, MDA, Full Frontal Disco) the album featured memorable moments, such as ‘World’, which features Magnus Dahlberg (MORE), with deceptively simple melodies but packs a punch, juxtaposing hope and beginnings with loss. ‘Vampires’ (featuring Gene Serene) works beautifully with a combo of male and female voices.
The album is enhanced by the addition of the guitars of Pano Coromelas, making it far more than just a simple darkwave album, elevating it to something supremely commercial and modern.
The TEC review concluded: “It’s not pompous and egotistical, it’s complex and beautifully paced throughout. Thoughtful and yet escapes being preachy by a long margin.”
Album Review: BLAKLIGHT – Into The Void
LEG PUPPY – The Air in Utopia is Poison
Leg Puppy’s fifth studio album again weaves in commentary, satire and punk grooves as you would expect. The album is prefaced with a wise quote from Peep Show’s legendary Super Hans: “If it feels good, do it”, which seems to be an apt motto to plunge into the album with.
‘Dick Pic’ is pretty much a song whose themes are accurately conveyed by the title. Apparently inspired by the experiences of friends, this darkly devious little composition delves into the world of dating apps and the convoluted – and often contradictory (“I like to go out/I like to stay in”) – ways that desperate people will employ to get attention. The unsettling piano helps to enhance the bleakness and emptiness at work here.
There’s a murkier clubby vibe at work on ‘Sync deal’, whose squelchy acid grooves provide the foundation for a cynical vision of music as a commodity. ‘Your Profile Is Dope’ adds a flat spoken delivery of the lyrics, adding to the dystopic mood, even as the unsettling grooves provide a weirdly hypnotic quality to the track.
The percussive ‘Algorithms You’re an Arsehole’ is an opportunity to take another dig at the world of social media, in this case the almighty Algorithm (“There’s a darkness on your face”). It’s a strange rhythmic fever dream, given brighter moments care of Evie Blue’s hypnotic vocal elements.
‘Turn it up Keith’ features the vocal talents of Violent Vickie on an electro punk workout that’s all bass beats and murky grooves. Lines such as “Tell me where to go/Beyond the physical” have an oddly disorientating feel to them.
The TEC review declared: “The Air in Utopia is Poison is a dark groove odyssey revealing an unnerving reflection of post-Brexit Britain. Never mind Black Mirror, this is more ‘Bleak Mirror’.”
Album Review: LEG PUPPY – The Air in Utopia is Poison
CULT WITH NO NAME – Nights in North Sentinel
2019’s Mediaburn (see review previously) demonstrated Cult With No Name’s abilities for smooth and stylish electronic pop with a more thoughtful element.
Coming up to date, new album Nights in North Sentinel trading in similarly impressive work. “Lush soundscapes carry viciously wry lyrics that neither take themselves too seriously nor take you, dear listener, for a fool” suggested TEC reviewer Simon Heavisides.
‘All Those Things I Admire’ emerged as almost beatific, with its Kraftwerk-echoing intro and a lyric that playfully tears apart the ‘it’s not me it’s you’ narrative, Eric’s vocal shadowed by the very welcome return of Kelli Ali.
The insistent beat of ‘Noa’s Arc’ twinkled with rolling piano and synth-filled unease as it tracks an unending fight against pain and depression where love is only a distant memory.
Meanwhile, on the elegiac ‘The Automatic Day’, synths ache and swell beneath Eric’s weary description of a life we all know, as the clock reminds us to begin another morning that merges with the last, and instead of a day of change it’s simply, “that time again” where it’s only, “the voices (that) tell me to carry on”.
“CWNN are our secret” concluded the TEC review, “but really, we need to share them.”
Album Review: CULT WITH NO NAME – Nights in North Sentinel
PRESTON.OUTATIME – Mirror Radius
Mirror Radius represents the third album from Brighton-based musician preston.outatime, a release which is described as being more stripped-back and slower than previous releases.
Certainly the new album offers a more serene and sedate experience that invites contemplation. The album’s wintery vibes, which seem to conjure up snow-bound landscapes and arctic desolation, seems quite a timely release. Opening track ‘Permafrost’ invoked strong visual ideas through its use of isolated piano notes, washed over with synth textures. There’s a wide, spatial feel at work here which hints at mythical, otherworldly vistas.
That concept carries over on the whispery, gauzy vibe of ‘Focusing Out’, while ‘Postshadowing’ is peppered with crystal-like tones and a gentle, buzzy vibe.
Meanwhile, the title track is driven by tight beats while layers of electronic moods shift across it. There’s a physical, tangible element lurking on ‘Slitscan’; an analogue vibe which calls to mind Boards Of Canada. ‘Cut The Knot’ is, apparently, intended to be “epic and cinematic” which it manages to pull off quite successfully, with its plaintive, sweeping guile.
Mirror Radius, on paper, could easily be read as another musician indulging in generic electronic noodling (which is something that’s become a bit of an unwelcome trend in recent times). Yet what emerges is an emotive, captivating sonic experience.
Album Review: PRESTON.OUTATIME – Mirror Radius