I always feel weird writing about music because I have 0 music background and I don’t write on the subject often. I have a lot of passion for it though! It’s just been hard to tap into ever since the start of COVID. I’ve stayed mostly cooped up in my house and experiencing the slow dread of the world which has meant there’s been times where I don’t have the energy for music. I also haven’t gotten back into seeing live music which was always a reliable way to boost my music listening. I’ve had to adjust and am slowly finding better ways to enjoy it. Making time to put on a record or an album after work has been an easy adjustment. Generally setting time aside after work to just listen to music has helped tremendously break up our usual tv shutdown at the end of the day (I need to schedule this more regularly). I’ve got a decent entry level DJ controller too that needs to get some more use. There’s nothing better than mixing favorite tracks together even if I absolutely fuck up the transitions.
One of the best things about writing this list is revisiting all the songs I’ve loved from the past year. It’s a joyous experience, listening back and feeling all the exciting emotions I had when I first heard them. My list is once again comprised of dance and electronic music, save for one very very notable selection. I can’t help it if my brain is just constantly called to dance music and this year has provided so many new artists to my list. It was also heartening to see Bandcamp Fridays continue, so hopefully there’s enough pressure for them to keep going. Please take these songs and dance wildly to them in a club for me, I’ll hopefully be able to join you soon.
My Favorite Song of 2021 – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – Like I Used To
Just a perfect song here, 10/10, eminently replayable and the only non-electronic song to make this list. I’m really really bad about keeping up with non-electronic music outside a handful of artists and one of those happens to be Angel Olsen. A good friend of mine continues to keep me in the loop and recommended Angel Olsen to me last year. I was instantly sold on her MY WOMAN album with the combination of her soulful voice matched with blues and rock sounds. Last year’s All Mirrors was an expanded step in a cool new direction, using big orchestra sounds to match the sweeping emotions of her lyrics. So I was excited to see a new collaboration announced that she was personally passionate about. I know next to nothing about Sharon Van Etten, I really need to do my research there, but from this track I bet I’ll be into her music. The track itself, a two woman collab about finding yourself again, is meticulously arranged to hit an emotional sweetspot. It’s a big rock/country ballad tracking regression into bad habits and closing off but finding yourself slowly opening back up. As someone who’s had a very up and down year with my anxiety, this song really hit me and when that last duet hits I instantly melt. Coupled with Angel Olsen officially coming out in 2021, I can’t imagine a sweeter and better song for the year.
Lone – Always Inside Your Head
A new Lone release is always cause for celebration. He specializes in beautiful soundscapes, whether that’s the genre versatility of his albums or the more dance floor focused found on his Ambivert Tools EPs or releases on his Ancient Astronauts label. All of his releases are a must buy and I’ve been enamored ever since his last LP, Levitate, which roared out the gate with mixtures of breakbeat and jungle five years before the current saturation of the revival of those genres. His new album moves things more toward ambient with enchanting results. His new collaborator Morgane Diet makes for a perfect match to the spaced out synths like on highlight Akoya. He also guesstures toward the dance floor on tracks like Inlove2 which starts out similarly ambient before dropping into a 4/4 beat and percussive claps that turn it into a euphoric roller and Tree for Tree, which morphs from light progressive drumming into squealing acid synths reminiscent of old Underworld tracks. Really though this album is about ambient soundscapes with percussive drumming, a Lone specialty. It’s the perfect album to get lost in.
Chrissy – Physical Release
11 tracks of goddam energy and an ode to classic “house,” in all the genre permutations that could be accompanied by that description. The album pays homage to raving and the underground scene, updating classic dance music sounds and using vocal recordings to put the listener in a specific time and place. Album opener Lost In A Dream lays out the ethos clearly with a vocal thesis about celebrating dance music pasts and future before turning into a euphoric breakbeat piano house track. There’s not a dip in energy across the entire LP as Chrissy crosses genres with experiments in jungle (All the True Ravers), acid bangers (Fantasy Pt 2, Virgin Warehouse Location) and disco (Feel the Spirit Move You). Chrissy saves my favorite for last with Lift Me Up, a perfectly tuned piano house track with a beautiful hardcore breakdown. The entire album is infectious from start to finish.
Anz – All Hours
Every now and then a release comes along that guesstures towards all corners of dance music and knocks them all out of the park. Anz’s newest EP is exactly that, a collection of tracks tracking “All Hours” of a party. The opening slowly moves into You Could Be, a sweet crossover pop song with stuttering drum beats and bright synths. The EP starts moving toward later dance genres, touching on garage with Real Enough to Feel Good and Detroit electro slammer with Inna Circle. Anz’s completely rips into big room material with Last Before Lights, a hardcore roller with trancey synths, big dub hoovers, breakbeats and blaring sirens. Whatever genre she tries to tackle, Anz absolutely nails.
Eris Dream – Quivering in Time
My favorite DJ put out an amazing dance album. I was excited when it was announced, her recent productions were all great (especially See You In Snow) and I was hoping it would skew toward the sounds found in her dj sets (yet another chance for me to post my favorite mix of all time). Quivering in Time doesn’t disappoint, a selection of the type of house and NRG rollers that her and her partner Octa Octa specialize in. The tracks are all her own though, using bright synths to match the 4/4 or breakbeat with psychedelic tones. The whole album puts a smile on your face, starting with the opening roller Time to Move Close. The LP is stacked with energetic floor tracks, like the rolling journey of Pick ‘Em Up or the garage inspired stomper Show You Love. There’s plenty of tender moments too, like A Howling Winds slow rolling beats matched with a nature sample or Baby’s stuttering Dub bass topped with a pleading vocal sample. The album clearly succeeds in communicating Eris’ high NRG dj sets and the dance floor energy of what she calls the “Motherbeat,” the divine healing that connects dancers, musicians and the music. It’s a rewarding and exciting listen front to back.
Kaptcha – xenolith v1.0
Dance music has wholly reabsorbed nineties rave sounds, incorporating trance, breakbeats, acid and generally faster tempos. I’ve found a lot to love about the revival but it’s also resulted in a somewhat stale template of big hooks, catchy synths and buzzsaw-like breakdowns. There’s so much more to incorporate and the compilation put out by kaptcha perfectly evokes that old rave sound. The Lisbon queer collective compiles 12 tracks ranging from hard house, trance, gabbed and prog. There’s bittersweet anthems like Europa’s Club of Cute and Angry and St4cey4101’s Crush that are extremely catchy and gratifying. There are intense dance workouts like Kerox’s AMBIENT FUCK, Alada’s Terremoto and Bassbin 23’s (an Eris Drew pseudonym) I Found You (Hardhouse Mix). The back half leans more ambient, evoking prog like Sean Brooder’s Pulse or softer breakbeat on SASHA THEFT’s East Of. By the time Octa Octa’s trancey Forever Gaze, Forever Here closes things out you’ll feel fulfilled and emotional.
Ayesha – Potential Energy
Good lord is this a fun EP. A collection of 4 dance floor workouts from an artist that only has 2 releases on bandcamp (!!) and they are all extremely impressive. I would charitably describe the tracks all have “fuck off drumming,” complex rhythms that are nonetheless propulsive and energizing. All the tracks seem to organically grow in size and potential slowly morphing into more energetic and bigger movers. Take the EP closer Dark Matter, a track that slowly builds into a catastrophic banger with bubbling synths and that same drumming until a third act breakdown. My favorite though is Ecstatic Descent, which uses the same tactic but with brighter bubbling synths and chopped up vocals. When the breakdown releases a little over halfway and drums return even larger, it’s absolute euphoria.
Bored Lord – The Last Illusion
After spending the better part of 2021 diving headfirst into her catalogue, there’s no better pairing than her releasing on T4T LUV NRG (and being their first new artist to release). The Bay Area rave specialist has an incredible ear for matching vocal samples with hardcore, house and acid sounds (I’d suggest checking out Archival Transmission, which are 15 tracks she wrote for bandcamp day in 2020). The latest EP is similarly effective, pulling in house, NRG, garage and acid sounds that fit right alongside the label. Drums really rule the EP like the opener, Everyday 2gether, which throws stuttering breakbeats behind a Gwen Stefani vocal sample or GNC NRG with its squealing acid synths and a tuned up ethereal voice throughout. Women’s Wisdom is a big time roller, with a hoovered bass and 4/4 beat. My personal favorite, So In Luv, takes the UK influence with hoovers and breakbeats with a sweet RnB vocal sample (it tugs at the heart strings in just the right way). Whatever genre permutation she’s tackling, Bored Lord always delivers satisfying and fun rave wonders.
AceMoma- A Future
It is absolutely incredible how much music Acemo and Moma Ready release. Whether it’s separate or as AceMoma, every release is a must buy. They added even more to their respective catalogs, but my favorite release from them has to be their second LP. Unlike A New Dawn, this album isn’t front to back party music but still has plenty of high energy tracks. The release is aptly titled, as the opener The Next Level begins with spacey synths and drum hits before being paired with menacing acid chords. There’s plenty of acid and electro to be found on A Future alongside their usual breakbeats like on highlight Legend of the African Samurai II. There’s a lot of melody to be found even on the big workouts like 1 Million Breaks and Titan. They also work in more ambient sounds, with beautiful tones across Finding Polaris and Time Woven Space. The best parts are where they step outside of their usual palette, like on the propulsive synth on Mycelium Dance and the live drum and horn sampling of A Future. Their vision of modern dance music is truly unique and encompassing.
India Jordan – Watch Out!
India Jordan absolutely stepped on the gas pedal for this release. Watch Out! Moves away from the filter house found on last year’s For You EP with a focus on hardcore and breakbeats. If you’ve listened to their mixes, they usually strike a balance between house and UKG before spedding into rave and hardcore territory. This EP then stands on the rave side of the equation with Only Said Enough thundering out the door with record scratches, frenzied drumming and propulsive bass. The energy is infectious. Watch Out! Continues this sound adding siren breakdowns and piano melodies. After the percussion tool You Can’t Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven’t Pressed The Button, they move into a sped up filter house tune with Feierabend. India Jordan finishes with And Groove, a sweet UKG mover. After a huge rise in the past couple years, this release feels like a special victory lap.
Skee Mask – Pool
I mentioned AceMoma’s combined and separate output and Skee Mask is standing on equal footing with the two. He followed up one of my favorite albums of all time, Compro, with a LP that expands on that sound and incorporates some of the more dance floor focused permutations usually saved for his EPs. IDM is probably the easiest definition for the sounds on Pool, but with a more varied sound palette. The similar ambient tracks have more lightness to them than on Compro, like the airy synth on CZ3000 Dub and Harrison Ford or bubbling synths and euphoric strings on Stone Cold 369. There’s plenty of breakbeat like on the euphoric, and my personal favorite, DJ Camo Bro and big beat influenced Collapse Casual. And while Breathing Method is the heaviest track to be on one of his LPs, Skee Mask also includes more acoustic samples on a few of the ambient tracks. Guitars on Rio Dub and field recordings on Absence mark new sounds on what have usually been colder and steelier productions. Pool is a gorgeous and unexpected journey from front to back.
Special Request DJ Kicks
Speaking of another producer with an incredible and frequent output, we got the year’s best mix CD that traces his influences from Sun Ra experimentations, Galaxian electro freakouts and some of his recent Jungle tracks. Special Request (or Paul Woolford) is known for his amazing productions but he’s put out amazing mixes including a favorite of mine FABRICLIVE 91. The majority of his DJ Kicks CD is much slower tempo and it’s dedicated to more lush synth and house sounds. The opening moments of waves crashing and radio transmission give way to the disco euphoria of Right Here Right Now (John Morales M+M Remix). He plays with the more melodic part of his sound and influences as house segways into electro. This isn’t banging Detroit electro, but more spaced out and euphoric like on Intergalactic Quartet’s Delta Waves and Acemo’s sparkling Sequence of Life. His own productions mirror this too, like on single Vellichor or what I can only assume is a new pseudonym Ultraviolet by LS1 Housing Authority. Special Request hits even further euphoric highs with his own remixes of classic Hayling by FC Kahuna and u-Ziq’s Twangle Frent. From there it’s high energy time, as the ending moments are filled with jungle which includes all timers Elysian Fields and Time Reaper’s VIP of Pull Up. It’s a fantastic listen and one I revisited frequently throughout the year.