Sam Ribakoff is campaigning to be the resident DJ of The Watts Coffee House, but you have to help save the landmark first.
25. Leroy – Dariacore/Dariacore 2: Enter Here, Hell to the Left
New Jersey teenager dltzk has rightfully gotten a lot of attention and praise for Frailty, a heart on your sleeves emo-pop record in hyperpop form, drowned in digital artifice and pierced with Amen breaks and EDM breakdowns (there’s even a Huell Howser sample for all you Southern California public television fans).
Peak around dltzk’s Bandcamp page and you’ll find something even louder, wilder, and dare I say, funner: Dariacore and its sequel by dltzk’s alias, Leroy. The Dariacore albums are full on assaults of EDM, digicore, and drum and bass hyperactivity competing with sped-up samples of things like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and even clips of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. It’s the sound of a young person whose really good at Fruity Loops just fucking around and making thrilling music that will sure to annoy oldheads and parents everywhere.
24. DJ Lostboi – Untitled
On this album, DJ Losboit made six beautifully immersive and texturely dense ambient soundscapes that alternatively sound like either ethereal video game music or a chorus of disembodied voices consoling lonely astronauts to peaceful sleep. The songs were apparently made by sampling songs from people like Grimes, Charli XCX, Nelly Furtado and other pop stars. But how? Bathed in reverb and other effects, these tracks sound nothing like pop songs. Well, maybe pop songs that have been stretched and shorn and then launched into deep space or down into the bottom of the ocean.
23. Angel-A + Russoul, featuring Isiah Baldwin – Pray to God EP
Oh you like deep, ecstatic house music? Well, on this short but engrossing, jazzy deep house gospel record, Chicago’s Angel-A + Russoul and Isiah Baldwin bring those rolling deep house drums, midnight-colored Fender Rhodes chord voicings, velvet smooth bass lines and even a good amount of jazzy soprano saxophone action. It’s powered by a whole lot of God and conviction, but even the most sinful and heathen among us can enjoy it.
22. 仮想夢プラザ – 解放感
Remember that meme from like a decade where somebody slowed down Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” by 800% and everybody loved it and said it sounded like high falutin “serious” “beautiful” ambient music like Sigur Ros or whatever? No, well here that is, but anyway, 仮想夢プラザ, or Virtual Dream Plaza in English, does the same kind of thing by slowing down old J-pop and city pop records from the 1970s and ‘80s to a narcoleptic pace, dousing it in reverb and echo and looping the results ad infinitum until you’re familiar with every nook and cranny. Call it vaporwave, chopped and screwed ambient music, or slushwave, but the results are lush, beautiful, and at a 31-minute run time, as immersive and decadent as music can be.
21. DJ Corey – Bringing Da Beatdown/Raw Trax #4
One of the highest forms of art, sampling unfortunately waxes and wanes due to cycles of overly litigious publishers and copyright holders suing everyone and everything if they can detect even the minute hint of a sample from one of their holdings. But thanks to people like Chicago footwork producer DJ Corey, sampling will no doubt live on. Across these two albums, DJ Corey masterfully chops soul, R&B, and what sounds like even soft and yacht rock style records, adds banging footwork drums and repeating vocal spoken commands to “get off the wall” into beautifully lush and propulsive Chicago footwork jams.
20. Arushi Jain – Under the Lilac Sky
Ancient people from across the world knew what’s up when they incorporated a drone – a long, continuous tone, note or chord – in their music. From the hurdy-gurdy, to the tanpura, to the begenna, to various bagpipe instruments from around the world, everybody knew that harmonizing around a drone is magical in its simultaneous simplicity and depth. On Under the Lilac Sky, Arushi Jain adds a modular synthesizer to that list of suitable drone instruments, harmonizing around bassy rumbles and ambient, texture heavy Eliane Radigue like meditative soundscapes on some parts and going off on winding Suzanne Ciani like synthesizer fantasias in other parts, but with a style and sense all her own.
19. AshTreJinkins – …I’ll Be Over Here
Murky, grimey, somewhere between techno and Low End Theory-style beat music, AshTreJinkins is a genre all his own. The Compton artist has dug deep into this sound for a couple of years now, but never with such warm, contemplative, ambient synths underguarding the compositions. Scraggly textural soundscapes buzz, hiss and crackle. The drums are baked in distortion and digital artifice. It’s all thud, sneer, and beauty.
18. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Candyman
It was a fine movie, but the best part of Nia DaCosta’s remake of Candyman – the part that follows you and burrows into your brain – is Robert Aiki Aubrey Loew’s unsettling score. It’s part rumbling piercings of George E Lewis, part Penderecki violin screeches, screaming sound masses, and haunting vocal intonations, and part whirling buzzes and needling electronic atmospherics of Bebe and Louis Barron’s sound effects for Forbidden Planet. Much of the music was apparently made by manipulating the composer and the actors’ voices with a modular synthesizer. It needles it’s way into your subconscious in a good way. Just don’t play it in the dark.
17. Amy Dabbs – Allure EP
A very successful stab at lush, soulful, house imbued drum and bass, Allure boasts deep chord progressions and stampeding 160 bpm breakbeats accompanied by sweet, sped up vocal samples. Consider this something like what Kanye would have done if he had made dance music during the 2000’s.
16. Dj Stingray 313 – Molecular Level Solutions
If you know Detroit techno legend DJ Stingray, then you know what this album is: hard-bodied chrome alloy beats and frigid, scratchy, foreboding, synth soundscapes that sound like dark storm clouds looming over the horizon. It’s 21st century, grimy, Detroit techno sound design with an electro swing, a sense of musical adornment and inflections drawn from electro and hip hop that’ll make you do the stank face.
15. E Bobby G – Giving You M.O.R.E.
Listening to E Bobby G is like reconnecting to your old, synth and Tangerine Dream and vaporwave obsessed buddy from high school, and listening to them jam on their synths late at night in their messy, neon pink-lit basement. Seemingly made from just an old organ with a meaty bass pedal and a crunchy drum machine run through effects units, the tracks on this album drift from vibey slow and sexy Garrett-like ambient boogie synth cruising music, to manic 90’s style bare bones video game drum and bass, to sweetly cheesy Muzak style covers of French house songs. Like your old, synth-obsessed high school buddy, this album is great because all it’s interested in is it’s own, weird and eccentric hobbies and totally unconcerned about everything else going on.
14. Dirty Bird – N—a U 24 It’s Time 4 Jazz (uncut)
North Carolina’s Dirty Bird has released five projects this year that all experiment with different strains of dance music, from straight ahead house to drum and bass and IDM type styles. However, if you want broken beat and lowdown sexy Detroit style funky house grooves, this one’s for you. Hints of afrobeat pop up from time to time as Dirty Bird’s, sometimes too horny, sometimes too mad, sometimes wrapped up in ennui, baritone whisper vocals get subsumed by rolling drums, bulbous bass lines and understated jazzy Fender Rhodes and synth chords. If you are currently struggling with whether or not it’s time for you to start listening to more jazz after listening to this, then yes, yes it is time for you to listen to more jazz.
13. Various Artists – Numero 95
I generally think nostalgia is not good, and maybe even very bad when taken too far, but dude, remember when being online was fun, where you could learn new things and it all felt like an adventure and not a corporate advertisement and hate-filled hell hole where your every movement is surveilled? Listening to these cheesy, smooth jazz-meets proto-vaporwave synthy new age fantasia jams puts you in that headspace of the early internet where things seemed limitless and free. This is your playlist for surfing internet forums and reading blogs. For late nights playing Final Fantasy. For watching those weird Lifeforms and Strong Bad videos. In reality it wasn’t all amazing and libertine as it seems in retrospect, but with this music playing, at least you can dream that it was.
12. Jarren – Antera
It might be London (or at least somewhere in England) on the cover of this album, but the music Jarren makes is Los Angeles through and through. Jarren makes the kind of music that Daz Dillinger and Frankie Knuckles would have made together. It’s got the bottomless solid bass of the best G-Funk beats and the buoyant bounce and infectious synths of the best deep house. But it’s not all tied to the past glories of those two genres. Jarren’s trying to push both styles forward by adding some jazzy flourishes of musicality to the synth work on the album, especially on the last track, “Devotional Melody,” and it definitely works.
11. Green-House – Music for Living Spaces
I’ve written it once, but I’ll write it again. Green-House makes ambient dance music for plants and their human friends. To simplify that, they make ambient dance music for all living things. Inspired by the music of Mort Garson, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Irv Teibel and others, there’s no drums on the album or much bass, but there is a lot of gentle and graceful movement of layers of synth and electric piano work interlocking and playing off each other, swaddling the listener in a warm electric blanket of simple and hum-able and lush melodies that you and your plant buddies can both sway along too together.
10. Jlin – Embryo and RP Boo – Established!
If techno music was supposed to be a reflection of post-industrial Black Detroit, then the footwork-meets-techno that Gary, Indiana’s Jlin is making sounds like the soundtrack to our own contemporary post-information age. Jlin takes the 4/4 format of techno here and precedes to pile on percussion from every direction, sub-bass synth buzz and wobbles and inflections of Chicago footwork rhythmic embellishments. Like Jlin’s previous releases, it can be overwhelming, claustrophobic and overstimulating, but when all of the percussion is piled up as high as it can go, Jlin knows just the right time to let it go and let you come up for air before pushing you back in.
As the creator of footwork and the personal mentor to many of the current trailblazers of the style, it’s amazing that RP Boo is still putting out the kind of high quality music (and DJing) the way that he is. While 2018’s I’ll Tell You What saw RP experimenting with style, tempo, texture and time, Established! is, as it’s title suggests, RPs reassertion of his bona fides through an album of classic footwork sounds (with an added touch of RPs sound design genius). There are obvious, sample chops of Barry White, Dr.Dre and Phil Collins with pounding 808s and cascading hi-hat triplets – tracks where RP, accompanied by muffled acid bass lines, waves of pummeling bass and wailing sirens, needles the competition, including one, “Finally Here (Afiya),” where RP duets with an affecting female voice and a big diva house sample.
Then there’s the second to last track, “Beauty Speak of Sounds,” a much mellower footwork style, where RP talks about “dancing on the grasslands of Africa” under gentle Moog bass lines and rainforest atmospherics. “You hear me/I’m beautiful/They call me music,” RP says on the track. It’s a celebration and crowning, but also a provocation for boring producers to do better.
9. Loraine James – Reflection
Reflection is one of the only good COVID records, mainly because it gets at the feeling of being alive these last some two odd years, without ever saying the words pandemic, COVID-19, or lockdown. Other than the title track, where James murmurs over ambient keys about not seeing her family in some time, the record mostly deflects from outright exposition. Instead, James sounds like she’s processing feelings of isolation and alienation, fear, nervous energy, cabin fever and ultimately optimism by cycling through different styles of electronic music – from U.K. drill to ambient music, dubstep, U.K. garage, glitch-pop, footwork and grime. Like a jazz musician, she plays that style’s specific melodies and rhythms and then expands on those themes, stretching them out and expressing her own unique style and frame of mind in them. Call it UK drill jazz.
8. Yvette Janine Jackson – Freedom
Yvette Janine Jackson is a composer and sound artist from Valley Center, Kansas that makes unnerving, dynamic, sometimes subtle, and other times on the nose radio operas. Not The War of the Worlds type radio play, more like experimental classical music meets musique concrete and sound art. The first composition on the record is a subtle and harrowing soundtrack of The Middle Passage, which slowly builds in intensity from the sounds of ocean waves to muffled moans backed by electronic hums and Penderecki-style string sounds. Then there’s the second composition, which, kind of like a Adam Curtis-style found footage documentary, samples the voices from various Obama era media, religious, political and academic figures to create an unnerving cacophony of homophobia, which then is met with the sound of an explosion and a free jazz freakout accompanied by an ominous electronic soundscape. Play it loud in headphones to catch everything; there’s a lot going on.
7. Zuli – All Caps EP
Not only is Egyptian producer ZULI one the most innovative and experimental drum and bass producers out there, he’s also one of the only electronic music producers with a sense of humor in their music [other than Sophie. R.I.P.].
Filtering D&B through trap, UK grime and layers of ominous, enveloping waves of noise, ZULI brings an unrelenting, bang your head drum and bass barrage, along with actually funny jokes. The best of which is on “Bro! (Love It),” where a monstrous, rollicking, glitchy breakbeat is briefly joined by a reedy woodwind sounding instrument, which is immediately interrupted by a voice shouting “love the Arabic fusion bro!” The breakbeat then speeds up at an unwieldy, breakneck speed. It’s later joined by the reed instrument from before. Then another voice interrupts the track asking “what happened to the North African music you were playing earlier?” Born in Cairo, ZULI lived in London, then moved back to Egypt,and has talked before about the “neo-orientalism” of being considered a representative of Egyptian electronic music by European audiences. He says he has a “geography doesn’t matter” approach to making music,” swiping up everything from the internet and shards of his own musical memories – from hip-hop to drum and bass, grime, to yes, sometimes even North African music from time to time to make some of the wildest and most creative cosmopolitan electronic music around.
6. Cakedog – War Room 1
If you’ve ever listened to old Chicago footwork/juke tracks saved from Myspace pages, forums, and downloaded from the various Megaupload file storage sites of the world, you know that the early pioneers of the genre got weird. Excessive and excitable soul music sample chops with blissful breaks, rumbling experimental bass, and of course hard as hell, oftentimes beautifully lo-fi, triplet footwork bass and snare drums. Cakedog knows that history and on War Room 1 he pays respect to it, while taking off into flights of serene, almost ambient or experimental classical music territory in between the hardass drums. On tracks like “Motherf*cker,” an incredibly fast sample of somebody saying the title of the track is repeated ad nauseum and pitted against a sample that sounds somewhere between a synth sweep and the swell of an orchestra. The constant eventually creates a serene soundscape that you could blissout to and show people where your ghost is at.
5. Uniiqu3 – Heartbeats
Uniiqu3’s continuing efforts to meld the hyperactive rhythms of Jersey club music with pop music have never sounded better than on Heartbeats. There are, of course, horny as hell jams from a woman’s perspective, but there’s also full fledged songs, with vocals handled by Uniiqu3 and some guest vocalists, about rebuffing the games men play with womens’ hearts and another song about unrequited love, all of course with that unmistakably addicting Jersey club beat, that bed spring sound effect from Trillvile’s “Some Cut,” and carnal phrases repeated ad absurdum – propelling the songs forward along with the compelling storytelling. If you’ve ever been heartbroken and ready to dance at the same time, this record’s for you.
4. Arca – KICK ii/kick iiii
Yes, the whole Kick series is good, but here me out, other than the horribly cheesy and misguided festival EDM of “Born Yesterday” with Sia, ii and iiii are the most interesting in the series. Where the wildly careening everything and the kitchen sink industrial club music on KicK iii and the mellow piano intimacy of kiCK iiiii both get a little staid after a while, both ii and iiii are always interesting experiments that push Arca’s sound and reach even further. On both records Arca adds her signature Yezus-era synth bass and gothic, grandiose, Earth shattering industrial beats and the heart-wrenching, operatic, melodrama of her 2017 self titled album to reggaeton and dembow.
It not only finds Arca continuing to push and transform sound, but it’s also reflective – a work that propels you to take stock of who you are, move forward with the best aspects of yourself, and leave behind that which can be changed for the better. As Shirley Manson from Garbage says on iiii’s “Alien Inside,” “I’ll ask you to remember/the first death/the last birth/the first time you recognized the alien inside/In the face of abject misery/remember the post human celestial sparkle/a mutant faith.”
3. LSDXOXO – Dedicated 2 Disrespect
Maybe the funnest record of the year, Berlin-via-Philadelphia producer LSDXOXO’s Dedicated 2 Disrespect is 16 minutes of pure, non-stop and unrepentant hardcore bootyhouse hedonism that would make even Paul Johnson blush. All four tracks here are instant classics, with deliciously monotone and supremely sultry vocals from LSDXOXO. From the vogue music approaching “The Devil,” which opens with the line, and then repeats multiple time, “the devil fucked me good,” to the pornographic moaning sounds that accompany the blown out gabber-meets-bootyhouse of “Baby,” to the insistent sirens of “Sick Bich,” the horniest song of the year, to the comparatively mellow New York house of “Mutant Exotic,” where LSDXOXO delivers what maybe the key lines to the whole project, “I’m mutant exotic/homo erotic/feel my mother fuckin bass in your body/I could be the devil or maybe a goddess.”
2. Jana Rush – Painful Enlightenment
When you think about music that tries to tackle the author’s depressive state, you think of singer songwriters, with an acoustic guitar, singing heartfelt songs about their pains and suffering. But Jana Rush’s experimental footwork album, or “dark experimental listening music” as she’d like you to call it, is one of the most effecting portraits of the ins and outs of someone in the grips of depression – all without an acoustic guitar or lyrics. Instead, Rush’s tracks take you into the headspace of depression, like the floods of inexplicable sadness, regret and dark thughts that “Suicidal Ideation,” the albums nine-minute centerpiece footwork sound collage of demonic growls, nagging sine waves, sounds of video games characters in distress and even Dr. Dre yelling at you, perfectly encapsulates.
There’s “Disturbed,” a desperate call for help personified by a wailing diva house sample chopped up into a classic footwork composition. There’s “G-Spot,” one of a couple samples of moaning and theatrical pornographic sex sounds on the record. It’s raunchy, silly, and with a bittersweet, slow, series of piano chords, that makes it seem like an audio picture of the yearning for physical intimacy and love. Towards the end of the album, the track “Mynd Fuc,” is, as the title suggests, a dizzying spree of footwork drums and sound collage meets free jazz like swarm of sounds. In the midst of the chaos, sounds of a serene, gently modal jazz band peak through for seconds at a time, like the light out of the fog of a depression. I hope Rush gets to enjoy that feeling more often.
1. PinkPantheress – to hell wit it
Is this the best drum and bass album in some time? Yes. Is it TikTok’s first great album? Yes. London producer and singer PinkPantheress extensively sampled 90’s drum and bass and rave tracks and added her sweet, twinkling fairy-like voice to songs like “Just for Me” and “Break It Off;” it blew up on TikTok over the past year, and now, her full length debut sounds like scrolling through the coolest TikTok feed when the algorithm is really in tune.
Like the social media platform she gained notoriety on, all the songs are short, with only one breaking just past the two minute and 30 second mark, but that’s all they need to be. Like perfect TikToks, the songs here are perfect encapsulations of a feeling, a mood, an idea, and then they’re gone, and it’s on to the next one. A lot of the songs take the same formula. “Break it Off” takes a sample from 90’s drum and bass, adds vocals with deceptively sad lyrics about relationships gone awry, teenage angst, parental problems and growing up, but on the album PinkPantheress perfects the formula.
A lot of the tracks here feel very DIY, some of the tracks have obviously been remixed and retooled from their early versions, and they sound good, but you can definitely hear the seams. The drums don’t necessarily boom, and the bass doesn’t necessarily hit your chest, but the DIY nature of it is part of it’s charm and fun. Sometimes it feels like PinkPantheress is simply recording her vocals straight off YouTube rips and putting them on a blank CD-R for you. It’s that unpretentiousness, humor and sincerity that makes this album great and something electronic music should take note of.