yeule - softscars
I saw yeule live in August, preceding this album's release and it was a lot of fun, they are an artist I think was providing a certain sort of music that I don't really find much that I can directly compare it to. Their third record softscars is a pivot away from previously soft, glitchy electro pop into a world of distorted '90s inspired alternative.
While it is definitely a pivot, and one that on the record's first track might seem quite drastic as is progresses to drown out in distortion and screams, it also feels like a neat evolution of the blissed out electropop into blissed out, dreamy alt-rock. The music sounds crisp, the lyrics are kinda emo and full of longing in a modern sort of way as well. While it feels indebted to the '90s, it hardly comes across as worship of the decade or trying on different shoegaze and alt band clothes, it's distinctly yeule and it's also maybe one of the very best albums of the year!
James Blake - Playing Robots Into Heaven
James Blake's new record is exactly what he needed to put out this year. To me, it seemed like his trajectory was getting a little uninteresting. I've been a massive fan but his previous, fifth record was a bit predictable. Despite dipping his toes into more accessible and collaboration friendly work on Assume Form, Friends That Break Your Heart felt like a far less effective repeat. Though Blake bounced back this year with the single Big Hammer which sounds unlike anything he's produced since the early '10s, mixing in grime with a sharp electronic dubstep style beat - with no vocals from himself.
From a production standpoint it's very exciting, from the Darude - Sandstorm style synths on Tell Me to a Yung Lean cloud rap type underlying beat on Night Sky. Sometimes the record does fall into feeling a bit drab, but the exciting moments do prevail and offer up a change of pace for James Blake that proves he's still a top producer on top of being a great songwriter. It's a smart heel turn and one that leads to some fresh electronic music.
Alan Palomo - World of Hassle
Back in 2015 when I was venturing out of electronic music into more indie music stylings, a great artist that smoothed the transition for me was Neon Indian aka Alan Palomo. Aside from a solitary single and some remixes, it's been pretty quiet from the artist formerly known as Neon Indian. However, his return to music this year with World of Hassle released under his legal name is exactly the sort of record you'd want that feels like the natural evolution of his big character, Prince inspired, grand synth-pop he was providing on the final Neon Indian album VEGA INTL. Night School.
World of Hassle provides a lot of fun textured synth-pop and vintage throwback styled tunes that feels impeccably produced and tuned in. There's some Spanish language songs towards the front of the album which actually are some of the catchiest, building off of the loose single Toyota Man that Palomo put out under the Neon Indian name. Songs like The Return of Mickey Milan conjure up a fictional world and character to center a song around that are imaginative and catchy. There aren't going to be many other albums that feel as lived in as the weird, wonderful World of Hassle released this year.
underscores - wallsocket
While the hyperpop scene has mostly died down, especially for me following the belated sophmore release of the genre's biggest name: 100 Gecs, there's a group of artists who have come up from that scene and matured their sound out from that label. underscores is one such artist, the solo project of April Harper Gray got her start producing as part of the intensely detailed electronic group Six Impala, but is making larger waves with her more personal work.
wallsocket sounds unlike anything else this year, melding interesting electronic stylings with indie rock and pop-punk. Her lyrics are often funny and sometimes deeply personal in revealing and uncomfortable ways. It's an album that bares a lot and is refreshingly direct as well as indirect and silly at times. While I've enjoyed her previous record and an EP released back in late 2021 was also great, this one feels like a defining moment for underscores as a project.
The Armed - Perfect Saviors
The Armed are a deliberate mystery, the actual line-up of the band is unknown and much about them is deliberately obscured. Starting off as post-hardcore and shifting into anthemic noise, their latest pulls back the noise a bit to produce a reasonably accessible rock album.
It's one where the undeniable hooks and riffs are more forefront and not so much hidden behind noisy production choice, which does lead to a different feel, and maybe one that's somewhat refreshing. I felt like their previous album really nailed what they were going for, so a change of pace here is appreciated. It's a lot of fun and adrenaline fueled in a more traditional alt-rock radio way. I don't consider it an essential album of the year, like how I felt about their last album ULTRAPOP but it's one that's no doubt worth a look and a decent entry point to those who've never heard the band before, as they are surely one of the most exciting rock bands out there right now.
Yeek - Future Reference
Genre: Indie, R&B
Yeek produces music that finds itself nestled in on accessible indie playlists on spotify quite often. But his newest album feels like the strongest set of songs he's produced thus far, with sun soaked R&B with wavering vocals. It's an ideal late summer album.
Fiddlehead - Death is Nothing to Us
Fiddlehead went under my radar despite enjoying the recent resurgence of hardcore bands, with their third album being the first one I've checked out on release as a fan. It's not breaking their mould, but their mould is pretty strong and well fitting so why not provide another sad, but anthemic set of hardcore rock music.
Sam Gellaitry - UNDER THE ILLUSION
Sam Gellaitry made one of my very favourite albums of last year with VF VOL. II and now returns with four new tracks for this quick EP. A little darker and more mysterious but still covering fun electronic textures with lovelorn vocals, it's certainly worth a look.
Tinashe - BB/ANG3L
Genre: R&B, Pop
New "album" from Tinashe is 22 minutes long and would traditionally be called an EP, but it's a sign of the artist's creative freedom after years of being let down by her label. It is a short, but exciting set of pop leaning R&B with excellent vocals and strong production that creates a nice mood.
No Rome - Blueboy Must Die
No Rome flew kinda under the radar with his 2021 debut, maybe due to it releasing late in December, but as a member of The 1975's label he provided a set of nice indie pop / rock tracks that I often still revisit.
A new EP is his first original work following that album and it is quite interesting, even if the poppier songs on here are maybe the ones that show of the artist's potential the least. The weirder pitched electronic tracks that feel trip-hop inspired are cool and pretty distinct.
Pink Skies - The Tree That Broke The Cement
Genre: Psychedelic, Electronic
Pink Skies started as a Tame Impala soundalike band but morphed into an under the radar sort of psychedelic pop project, with his EP Summer's For Lovers washing up on my spotify and making a big impression with its late summer melancholy. This new album is maybe his biggest musical statement yet, moving more into more electronic focused tunes.
It sounds great and while the vocals could be considered a bit repetitive at this project's lengthm it's something I'm going to return to for sure.
Toro y Moi - Sandhills
Toro y Moi continues his seemingly unending prolific output with a small country EP, which even all these years into his career is uncharted territory for the artist. An ode to his home state of South Carolina, his provides some earnest and low-key banjo strumming anthems. While for me, it's not the sort of music I'm looking for from Toro y Moi, it is regardless a fun little excursion and one that still showcases an musician looking to surprise and try new things, never staying in one lane too long.
Seventh Stitch - Murmuring Chasms Of Nostalgia
Seventh Stitch is an alias of electronic musician Jon Gooch who is more well known under his other aliases, Feed Me and Spor. This darker 'witch house' collection of tracks is not something you'd fully expect given the nature of his other work being more crowd pleasing EDM. With spooky vocal chops over distorted bass, it's a more low-key but tightly produced project.