Back when I was in college and first discovering electronic music we called it “techno”, all of it, any wordless, repetitive, synthetic dance music. It wasn’t so much laziness as the fact that I wasn’t writing about music much in those days, so why bother learning the ins and outs of the terminology? Totally unnecessary for going to raves and dancing your brains out. Nowadays the broader spectrum of electronic music is so eclectic we can scarcely define any of it by a single subgenre, which is just fine by me because I’m still not quite clear on what defines jungle or hardcore or any of the other styles, and I haven’t been to a rave in many years so no more awkward conversations in the chill-out room where I reveal myself to be an uncultured noob.
Techno DJs weren’t (/aren’t?) really about making albums anyway. Are there some techno elements strewn into Floating Points’ Crush? Uh…fuck if I know. I remember some time in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s the media had taken to referring to the whole spectrum as “electronica”, which seemed harmless and vague enough but OOOOOH HELL NO THAT’S NOT ELECTRONICA THIS IS ELECTRONICA YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT on and on and on, okay, fine, sorry to have written about you at all I’m sure. We’re not inclined to use these terms any more, and artists aren’t bound by them, either. But I’m only mentioning Crush because of how much I’ve enjoyed Sam Shepherd’s previous work; this new one is not grabbing me and I don’t know why. I can’t fault it for being all over the map, stylistically; I just can’t seem to immerse myself in it like I want to, although it has continued to grow on me incrementally. Sort of like the Teebs album from this year, it’s constantly jolting me out of whatever state it just put me in. I guess I’m too concerned with cohesion and flow; take that as you will.
This must be why Paula Temple’s Edge Of Everything hooked me. (Furthermore, according to my research…this is techno. ducks) The intensity oscillates, but the movement throughout the album feels so natural. Even at work, the furthest known place from a dancefloor, I feel drawn into the music. Temple has created a little universe and moving through it is a unique thrill. This goes for the latest Clams Casino album as well, which I suppose falls under the trip-hop umbrella, a genre which graciously refuses to go away despite falling largely out of the public eye since the ‘90s. I think if you came into some degree of self-awareness during that initial wave you’ll always have a soft spot for this type of chill, spacious groove, where no instrumental sound is off the table. Moon Trip Radio is a very on-the-nose title.
Another all-consuming, immersive experience on a more ambient front: Siavash Amini’s What The Wind Whispered To The Trees. Amini’s music was one of my favorite discoveries of the year, and this album conjures up vast, desolate and dark imagery, but it’s not without its comforting moments. It took months of listening before I discovered that while it was released on label Room40’s bandcamp page this year…it actually came out in 2014, whoops! However, Amini put out a few albums this year for real, my favorite being his collaboration with 9T Antiope, Harmistice, a chilling half hour of quasi-industrial ambience and singing which is both ethereal and grounded. I’m excited to dig further into this catalog.
Definitely not techno: Nils Frahm’s All Encores, which may not really belong here, but don’t make that argument if you’ve only listened to the first half of the album. A sequence of piano pieces, mic’d so that the keystrokes and foot pedals and rustling of clothing are as prominent as the notes, the album lulls you into thinking it’s one kind of work, only to slowly morph into something completely different. Reportedly the truncated result of a planned but abandoned triple-album set, this combination of three EPs comes together as a focused narrative, wherein the beginning and middle find their meaning in the wake of the ending. My favorite kind of movie. Maybe I’m putting more thought into my experience of the album as a whole than Frahm did just putting the three EPs together; that doesn’t take away from the emotional impact.