Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. So, we’ve opted to leave the albums that appeared on the overall best list off the genre-specific lists. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it is meant to highlight the best work in this genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.
2017 was an exceptional year for electronic and experimental music, from artists like Arca and M.E.S.H., who continued pushing post-club music to new extremes, to artists like Honey Dijon and Octo Octa, whose albums proved there is plenty of life left on the dance floor. We’ve decided to lump electronic and experimental musics together once again this year in a single list because so much of what is happening at the forefront of electronic bleeds into the experimental realm, whether it’s Chino Amobi’s elaborate world-building or Jlin’s infinite rhythms. This list of twenty releases shows just how seamlessly those two schools of thought fit together as they represent some of the most thoughtful and challenging music to come out this year.
20. Octo Octa, Where Are We Going?
Despite its title, this release from Maya Bouldry-Morrison is far from being directionless. There’s a balance here, held in check by propulsive, uptempo beats that are juxtaposed with dreamy, contemplative synth lines and melodies. The title track, which is split into two parts that bookend the album has a hazy late night vibe. “Fleeting Moments Of Freedom” dials up the urgency, like the seizing of an opportunity, ushering in the album’s untethered break-beat house. Bouldry-Morrison’s off-the-cuff production choices really add to the urgent feeling of the record. As the tracks dial up the tempo, the dreamy qualities that introduced the record dissipate, as if the more the album progresses, the closer Bouldry-Morrison gets to answering the titular question. But, as “Fleeting” promises, she’s a woman of her word as “Adrift” offers the excellent come down to a brilliant house record.–Michael Rancic
19. Chino Amobi, PARADISO
The cover of Chino Amobi’s debut album is of Amobi’s passport to the fictional “Paradiso,” which acts a doorway into the world he’s built. Thankfully he’s granted us access too. Amobi’s world appeals to what Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist and intellectual Leanne Betasamosake Simpson calls “a present future beyond the imaginative and territorial bounds of colonialism.” The listener is positioned in the world via a radio station, NON Worldwide, which makes the whole experience feel immersive, like Amobi is playing tour guide. Synths blare, robotic sound effects drone and pan, sirens wail, all creating a dense tapestry and strong sense of place without so much as a word. The record features collaborations from Elysia Crampton, Rabit, Haleek Maul, and Dutch E Germ, yet is careful not to credit them in the tracklisting, so that when “Eigengrau”’s off-the-rails grime hits, it’s something that exists within the fictional space of “Paradiso.” All in all it’s a strong and cohesive follow up to the NON collective co-founder’s Airport Music For Black Folk.–M.R.
18. Four Tet, New Energy
At the beginning of the year it seemed as though Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden was perfectly happy to release individual song after song, teasing out three separate cuts that would end up on New Energy before announcing the album proper itself. This latest effort from percussionist and producer Hebden is his first full length in two years, and a return to form following the twenty-minute epics that made up 2015’s Morning / Evening. New Energy is imbued with the same deliberate and intentional attitude that Hebden took to promoting the record. There’s a definite structure to this release, with one shorter track often preceding two longer ones. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see these peaks and valleys as a kind of waveform, connecting these disparate thoughts and ideas as Hebden traces his own way through the sounds he’s developed throughout his career.–M.R.
17. M.E.S.H., Hesaitix
Like a film that keeps cutting between scenes in a club and what’s going on outside of it, M.E.S.H.’s sophomore album finds a balance between songs that make the listener want to move, and ones that move around the listener. Back in October, M.E.S.H. told me that “this release is more structured, more musical, and it feels like its integrating a lot of older ideas into a whole.” Whereas his previous record felt as though his influences were oppositional, even irreconcilable, here there’s a proper marriage between the two as nature’s natural droners cicadas get abstracted into blurred oblivion while synths and loops grow thick with moss. The club and natural world don’t so much collide as they influence and respond to one another in communion.–M.R.
16. Ex Eye, Ex Eye
Kind of metal and kind of not, Ex Eye are a difficult group to peg and all the more exciting for it. This album is a collaborative effort from herculean saxophonist Colin Stetson, percussion phenom Greg Fox, composer and Secret Chiefs 3 member Shazad Ismaily, and guitar improviser Toby Summerfield. Each dabbles in “avant” territory individually, but are also equally happy playing heavy music, as all but Summerfield joined forces last year for Stetson’s black metal reimagining of Henry Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, Sorrow. On their debut effort as a quartet, they throw genre, style and convention into their pan-dimensional whirlwind of technical prowess, summoning a deadly black jazz magic in their midst that sounds full of possibility. This self-titled effort is hopefully the first of a long and fruitful collaboration.–M.R.
15. Petra Glynt, This Trip
Even if you were familiar with Petra Glynt’s work prior to the release of her debut album this year, it’s still likely that This Trip came as a bit of a shock; she’s a percussionist with the voice of an opera singer making dense planet-focused pop music. Gone are the trappings of her lo-fi past, This Trip is a full-blown assault on the senses with its rich, kaleidoscopic rainbow networks forming the backdrop for Glynt’s savvy songcraft. Few records this year have sounded both so political, so vibrant, so full of life.–M.R.