Dancing Astronaut’s Top 10 Albums of 2014
Dancing Astronaut's Top 10 Albums of 2014
If the live dance spectrum was dominated by cutting edge festival action across the globe, the digital market was the beneficiary of an unprecedented wave of studio albums throughout 2014. Moving past the assumptions of dance music being a singles market and the trend for using the platform as a fodder for club B-sides, the peak in attention towards these deeper and more detailed bodies of work have been an essential cog in the forward motions of the dance music industry. With artists spanning, and even avoiding, all genres donning their hands to the format, Dancing Astronaut reflects on the full-length moments that went the extra mile through the year to become 2014 landmarks.
10. Calvin Harris - Motion
Matching sex appeal with outright selling success, 2014 was exceedingly good to Calvin Harris. It was also the year Motion turned an agenda we thought we had sussed sideways. The follow-up to 18-months was less about pandering to the radio-friendly market, but more showing just how many creative avenues are available to producers with the right industry collateral. Said collateral is only available to a certain level of producer. Whether you dug the risqué lyrics of Big Sean or were totally convinced by James Newman’s crooning on “Blame It On Me,” Motion was an unapologetically accessible album that showed you don’t need to rely on two solid hits to blow up a dance music album anymore.
9. Knife Party - Abandon Ship
Knife Party draw comparisons to spinal tap where loudness is concerned, but their debut album Abandon Ship was far more than EDM turned up to 11. With three heavily rotated EPs behind them, Knife Party were to the festival main stage what Pendulum were to the drum & bass market: a hyper intensified sign of life with unapologetic stamina. Their 12-track debut played as a disgruntled reminder of how baron the festival-savvy market has become, but still sounded big enough to maintain the amply sized venues more commonly associated with their material these days. It was a new lease of life on a tried and tested sound, one that Knife Party took total control of courtesy of this well polished first.
8. Aphex Twin - Syro
It was easy to jump on the bandwagon where Aphex Twin’s 6th album was concerned. A cult producer with a bloodline of fans who would happily hold modern day EDM pin-ups to the same ill-fate as Justin Bieber, SYRO stood for an idea that everyone wanted to have a say on in 2014: deviation. Just a short breath away from the Caustic Window LP, having the retrospective album land so close gave newer fans the ability to see just where the sound of Aphex Twin had come since his emergence in the 90’s as the soundtrack to electronic music in revolt. It’s too well produced to sound like heyday Twin, but as warped and sometimes sinister as we know and love Richard James’ output to be. You didn’t HAVE to like SYRO, but for stalwart fans and those seeking something wild, it certainly was music to the ears.
7. Odesza - In Return
Seattle’s Odesza waited until their second album to truly stand out. Approved by Ninja Tunes at early doors and already renowned for their ability to bring compositional substance into the electronic dance sphere, In Return had a lot riding on its delivery, and it sure didn’t disappoint. Their blend of atmospheric and hooky electronic music always comes with a thick skin and some considerable emphasis on the beats, giving the big room market a fair point of reference as to where things can be dialed down and still deliver maximal impact. What In Return lacks in energy it makes up for in intuitive progressions and a truly spectacular selection of collaborators.
6. Chromeo - White Women
Fans waited four years for Dave 1 and P Thugg to make with album number four, but there was a ten-year journey behind the album that finally showed Chromeo in full control of their sound. With quirky hits and a cult like following behind them, it has been easier for the outsider to take their blend of nostalgically tuned pop with a heavy reliance on synthesisers as a gimmick, but the likes of “Jealous” and “Come Alive” signalled serious footsteps forward for the two-man band. With just the right balance of nostalgia and a penchant for genuinely catchy moments of music, it suddenly felt a bit easier to find Chromeo to be more than a running joke and more of an electro pop powerhouse with White Women.
5. Gorgon City - Sirens
Gorgon City came to epitomize the resurgence of UK garage and low-end favouring house music in 2014, Sirens being their ultimate splash outside of the national comfort zone. Part trendy crossover house album, part amalgamative collaborative romp, theirs was the first full-length endeavour to string name-drop worthy collaborations and commercially accessible singles into a consistent sitting. Sirens could have ended up a 13-piece boilerplate cut from “Ready For Your Love,” but the character and conviction of this diverse journey into the commercial dance sphere secures Gorgon City an essential place in the genre’s upper echelon.
4. Skrillex - Recess
Any implication that Skrillex was ‘selling out’ was liberally quashed in the delivery of Recess. From start-to-finish, the well-oiled and often unhinged studio etiquette of the post-dub step poster boy turned global bass advocate showed that we had no real inclination of what Sonny Moore was capable of. Eccentric collaborators, a monstrous mash-up of genre identities and an overall obscure structure made Recess a record far less easy to digest than Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, but it was enough to tempt the legions of Ableton junkies and aspiring producers that had followed since to look past the comfort zone in search of music that turns heads. In 2014, Skrillex delivered an album worthy of the largest festival stages and the eardrums of a rapidly expanding consumer audience. With no compromise in creativity required in the process, his was a victory felt across the industry.
3. Chet Faker - Built On Glass
Chet Faker’s debut raised the bar for electro pop in all the right ways. In the same year that saw him debut on US TV and take home another ARIA award (this time for ‘Best Male Artist’), Built On Glass was a defining moment for the Internet sensation turned Aussie electronic crooner. Mellow, stripped back and hinged on genuinely heart wrenching songs, the album was just the right level of intimate to show where electronic music could hold its experimental edge whilst bending to a more traditional form of expression. There was no obvious way to categorize Chet Faker’s masterful first album, but this intriguing and intimate first set a significantly well-deserved spotlight on Nicholas James Murphy for 2015.
2. Guy Gerber & Diddy - 11:11
Three-years in the making and forged between the most unlikely union imaginable, Guy Gerber and Diddy turned heads in 2014. 11:11 was not their first formal collaboration, but few could have anticipated the scale and substance of the project until it was unloaded as a free download back in August. The record epitomized experimentation at a time when everyone seemed to be taking the cookie cutter express, a process that didn’t emerge with any anthems, but nonetheless provided a mesmerising body of music from this underground/urban conglomerate. You could argue that in the wake of 11:11, the rulebook of the electronic music album were left wide open, making it one of the more overlooked yet nonetheless essential full-length offerings of the past 12 months.
1. Porter Robinson - Worlds
If 2014 was to be the year of looking past the EDM bubble, Porter Robinson provided its first full-length graduation. Worlds had the potential to shun everything the young American talent had built name on, but instead showed where the enthusiasm of a generation now bowing to electronic dance music could reclaim its creative panache. Balancing great epics, divine instrumental moments and unprecedented collaborations via the likes of Lemaitre and Imaginary Cities, Worlds was the album few expected from Porter Robinson, but there is a great chance people will still be listening to this full-length debut in a decades time. That sounds like a home run to electronic music by our standards.