So many great albums come out in a year, and it’s all too easy to be listening to one thing and feel sure that nothing else could possibly beat it. That is, until you start listening to the next record. On White Noise’s year-end roundup, we pay special homage to those albums which challenged the way you think about music while still delivering quality tunes, those that stretched their concepts a little bit further than the dancefloor. More than anything, these are albums with real longevity- that we’re still listening to months after the hype died down.
As a treat, I’ve included White Noise’s 5 Best Non-Dance Albums at the bottom of the post.
Austin Cesear – Cruise Forever
Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Session Victim – The Haunted House of House
15 – Gerry Read – Jummy [Fourth Wave]
With the UK House scene becoming ever more densely populated, Read’s unique lofi approach stood out from the crowd on his great debut LP. Rough DIY beats and syrupy textures lent the record a hazy feel that stood as a loud statement against the over-polished productions of so many scenesters.
14 – Darling Farah – Body [Civil]
2012 was an uncommonly fine year for Techno albums, which often stood out for their precision and propulsive drive. What Farah really nailed on his debut LP, as well as these things, was atmosphere. The music of Body felt like a contingent world surrounding the listener, and his minimal approach to layering meant that every sound really counted.
13 – Holy Other – Held [Tri Angle]
The publicity-shy Holy Other made good on the promise of 2011’s With U EP by expanding his sonic palette and increasingly the emotive scope of his sounds. Drenched in moody atmospherics, his crunchy Hip Hop beats and soaring synths spoke of an emotional desolation rarely conjured on electronic records.
12 – Juju & Jordash – Techno Primitivism [Dekmantel]
Stoplight Loosejam / Diatoms / Backwash
This Amsterdam-based pair have been a Techno secret for two long, and with this outstanding LP they finally stepped into the limelight. Fusing an embarrassment of genres and styles into a muscular Techno framework, the details and pure grooves on offer throughout this album kept us coming back for more and more.
11 – Andy Stott – Luxury Problems [Modern Love]
Notching up his second superb LP in as many years, Stott returned to his weary industrial House sounds with a fresh eye on Luxuruy Problems. Warping the vocals of his former piano teacher Alison Skidmore into the mix, Stott’s detailed atmospheric productions still stand without equal.
10 – Donato Dozzy & Neel – Voices From The Lake [Prologue]
Italian Techno legend Donato Dozzy returned to long-time collaborator Neel to conjure one of the year’s quietest and best surprises. The tracks here work as a continuous whole, always impressing while never insisting, conjuring an organic sonic landscape in which the listener will want to get lost again and again.
9 – Recondite – On Acid [Acid Test]
Just when you thought you’d heard everything that could be done with a 303, in came Recondite. These cerebral and meditative tracks are not Acid as you’d expect it, unravelling and building as long constructions which carefully conjure mood and feeling. It was a remarkable thing in itself to hear those pure crystalline notes eked from the famous squelching synthesizer, and this LP was one of the year’s most thoughtful and delicate successes.
8 – Cooly G – Playin Me [Hyperdub]
After a sporadic series of releases delving into the UK dance tradition, Londoner Cooly G took us by surprise with her exploratory and sensuous debut album. The tracks here feel remarkably free of genre convention, fusing dance tropes with treated acoustic instruments and frequently the producer’s own warped vocals. The thrill of structural exploration is matched only by a surprising emotive punch beneath the ghosts of UK Funky drum patterns, resulting in a moody and powerful post-RnB epic.
7 – Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – Black Is Beautiful [Hyperdub]
The duo also known as Hype Williams turn out a lot of material, and to date little has stood up to the excellence of their Untitled LP. But here on their Hyperdub debut they’ve conjured another slice of warped brilliance. You’ll recognize the syrupy synths and hollow drum patterns, but with more structural and sonic experimentation and the prominence of Copeland’s sensual vocals, these fractured soundscapes start to give way to something confusing, profound, and often beautiful.
6 – LHF – Keepers of the Light [Keysound]
A dance album that clocks in over two hours is almost never a good idea, but shadowy London collective LHF exploded onto the scene with this thrilling and atmospheric collection. Each producer has his own distinctive voice and impressive production chops, crafting an epic homage to London’s dance lineage that never tires despite its ambitious runtime.
5 – Actress – RIP [Honest Jon’s]
With his challenging and genre-defying follow up to Splazsh, Actress stepped even further away from convention to serve up a fragmentary narrative of meditations on death. The heavy subject matter did nothing to take away from Actress’ production prowess, and with repeated listens this album opened up like a dream, letting you in, little by little, to his devastating, perplexing, and utterly unique world.
4 – Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka – They!Live [50Weapons]
They!Live won’t turn any heads for radical innovation or experimentalism. It was simply a very, very good dance album. Perfecting the fusion of moodier pieces (greatly helped by the lovely vocals of Abigail Wyles) and nuanced dancefloor bangers, the whole thing just worked perfectly. Each track was impeccably polished, the pair producing a diverse and engaging collection of tracks that amazed just as much on headphones as it did on the dancefloor.
3 – Jimmy Edgar – Majenta [Hotflush]
It would be easy to brush off Majenta. There’s something undeniably filthy about it all; an electro-funk odyssey drenched in sleaze and neon lights. But beneath the 80’s backroom vibes there is one of the most engaging, diverse, and flat-out fun albums that came out all year. Every track sizzles with energy; Edgar’s pairing of razor-sharp IDM beats and big Funk basslines is pulled off without a single error, creating a lurid musical world that we returned to more than any other this year.
2 – Vessel – Order of Noise [Tri Angle]
There was an unusually high quality in the LP debuts put out this year, and a lot of this had to do with the Post-Dubstep search for a new deconstruction, a new fluid melding of genres that defied easy labels. Sebastian Gainsborough’s debut for Tri Angle proudly wore the tropes of Dub, Techno and Ambient on his sleeve but created something utterly unique. Order of Noise is a true journey; enticing and mysterious, dusty and religious. Here is a rare confidence, a complete journey with myriad details to return to, a piece of music that will stay with you long after the final track fades into the distance.
1 – Jam City – Classical Curves [Night Slugs]
A lot of the albums on this list worked to reconstitute Dance music’s rich past, bringing a range of styles up to date with canny production and new technology. But Jam City’s phenomenal debut album was the record on which these historical tropes truly felt as if they were envisioning a new future for the scene. This polished collection of tunes embodied the ubiquitous conflict of contemporary culture- in turns funky and dark, soft and abrasive, ambient and propulsive. The best albums pull the listener into the producer’s world, and from the first note of Classical Curves we were right there: amongst the blood, the oil and the chrome, and all of the dangerous beauty lurking within.
White Noise’s 5 Best Non-Dance Albums
For the hell of it, here are the five albums that have got the most play here at White Noise HQ outside the constraints of the Dance spectrum.
5 – Jessie Ware – Devotion
Ware took on a host of talented Dance producers to put out the best thing that happened to Pop all year. Catchy while remaining impeccably produced throughout, Devotion soared above all the competition.
4 – Julia Holter – Ekstasis
How do you follow up an album as universally adored as Tragedy? Holter tackled her sophomore release admirably, crafting a more accessible but just as brilliant album that gave us a lot to chew on. Complex compositions vied with Pop sensibilities, resulting in another slice of brilliance from one of the music world’s most fascinating and unique contemporary voices.
3 – Beach House – Bloom
We’ll be the first to say it: Bloom doesn’t really sound that different from Beach House’s phenomenal third album, Teen Dream. But we didn’t need it to. The Baltimore duo have captured the hearts of many with their gauzy textures, cheap drum machines and Victoria Legrand’s phenomenal honeyed vocals. If they keep putting out albums of this quality and never change an iota, we’ll keep buying them.
2 – Chromatics – Kill For Love
Johnny Jewel finally delivered on a follow-up to 2007’s glorious Night Drive with stellar double-album Kill For Love. The return of those 80s synths and Ruth Radelet’s anaesthetized vocals couldn’t hide a new compositional prowess and the killer pop sensibilities that made so many of these tracks absolutely essential.
1 – Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D City
Lamar’s surprising and fantastic new album is probably one of the year’s most critically revered releases. But this isn’t a case of the hype machine working at full pelt. Good Kid M.A.A.D City showed a rapper with a rare focus on emotional experience and honesty, a brave move in the face of mainstream Hip Hop’s caricature of thug life. Lamar went a step further, parodying Gangsta Rap by deftly manipulating an array of personas that attempted to show just where Hip Hop went wrong in the evolutionary process. But this wasn’t just about the lyrics, a keen ear for production means the tracks never sound less than brilliant, complimenting the layered narrative which you’ll come back to long after the year is out.