I have a sneaking suspicion that lossless audio downloads are slowly but surely becoming less expensive. Around $10-15 per album now seems to be the norm with the likes of Boomkat and Bleep now on par with the artist-direct content sold via Bandcamp.
Got a great two-channel system or killer headphone rig? Here are ten electronic albums that are worthy of your download dollars. Do note: this isn’t ‘audiophiles for electronica’ but ‘electronica for audiophiles’, a subtle but important distinction to make.
Blamstrain – For All The Dreamers In
No, not a David Bowie-related injury but Finland’s finest electronic music export. Juho Hietala’s latest is more pastoral and/or noise-laden than anything he’s done previously. It’s also more varied. A smattering of ambient pieces blended with field recordings interlock the album’s more crucial cuts. One for listening whilst sitting still behind headphones. Available as lossless download at the Blamstrain Bandcamp for €12.
Fennesz – Bécs
An album for the stationary listener. This is Austrian Christian Fennesz‘ first album proper in six years and it comes on like a complex headache that you learn to live with and then, later, love. Fractured beats sit beneath acoustic guitar strums washed in layers of distorted noise. Listening to Bécs is akin to stepping out from underneath the dappled cover of Spring’s first leaves into blindingly brilliant sunshine. The FLAC is £7 from Boomkat.
The Flashbulb – Nothing is Real
Another album for the stationary listener. Not as confronting and far prettier than Fennesz, Nothing is Real is an unusual sideways move from Chicago’s Benn Jordan. The chaotic drill n bass n acid of his numerous earlier albums is nowhere to be found. And who wants an artist to make the same album over and over? If you like what you hear of this, Jordan has made nearly all of his releases via his Bandcamp page. That’s where Nothing is Real will run you US$10 no matter which download format you choose.
L.S.G. – Rendezvous In Outer Space (Remastered)
Early trance from 1995 (when electronic music’s BPMs generally ran higher) but don’t let that put you off. Producer Oliver Lieb could have easily intended this debut long player (under his L.S.G. alias) as a soundtrack to a thousand low-rent 70s sci-fi TV shows but it’s into the inner space of one’s consciousness that RIOS really drives its message home. Chock full of melancholic motifs, this is electronic music that lends deep emotion to the braindance. Fire it up on a night drive and by the time you hit “Sweet Gravity” you’ll emerge from a motorway-induced catatonia wondering where the previous fifteen minutes/miles went. But it wasn’t the motorway, it was L.S.G. This new edition has been remastered in 2014 and released in 24-bit FLAC. It sounds spectacular. Available from Oliver Lieb’s Bandcamp for €11.
Atom TM – HD
We’re seeing increasingly more electronic artists putting out releases as 24-bit editions. Uwe Schmidt has always been an audiophile focussed fellow. You can purchase much of his extensive catalogue direct from the man himself via his rather clunky website. 2013’s HD sounds positively stunning. Lead track “Pop HD” is what Kraftwerk might sound like if they were French whilst “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” pokes fun at the mainstream music media (MTV), words delivered by a voice stripped of all sonic humanity. Clearly German-born Schmidt knows a thing or too about melding ironic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics with glitchy electro beats. The production and mastering here are both immaculate. It’s what you drop onto the hi-fi when you want to show off your system’s dynamics and sense of clarity…so make sure you get the 24-bit WAV version, US$13 from Bleep.com.
Kangding Ray – Solens Arc
This 2014 release from David Letellier is more suggestive of cultural disintegration and urban decay than inter-galactical travel. It’s also more 4/4 focussed in places than his previous efforts. Some cuts might even be workable in (Berlin’s) club spaces. However, Solens Arc‘s slow construction-deconstruction cycle keeps the continuously mixed tracks firmly grounded in home listening territory. Put on a decent pair of headphones and sink into the cracks between the sounds. You won’t get the travelling-without-moving vibe of the aforementioned L.S.G but like RIOS, this is a release that demands consumption in one sitting. Take it for a walk during a chilly winter sunset in your favourite city. US$12 from Bleep.com.
Plastikman – EX (Performed live at the Guggenheim, NYC)
With age comes maturity. Much like Sven Vath before him, Richie Hawtin has copped a lot of flack in recent years. Accusations of ‘selling out’ to the Ibiza crowd have been hard for Hawtin to refute given a complete absence of new Plastikman material since 2003’s Closer. When Hawtin revived this minimal acid house alias in 2011 – one that has lent his career the double-whammy of critical acclaim and commercial success – things began to swing back in his favour. Once the tour to promote 2010’s Plastikman Arkives release had wrapped up, Hawtin was asked to play Manhattan’s famous Guggenheim museum, a gig to which it would have been crass (and lazy) to bring belters like “Spastik’ and “Gak”. Instead, he slowed the tempos and upped the minor-key melodies. And it’s the distillation of this live show that forms the first Plastikman release in over ten years. It’s a continuous mix that builds from almost nothing but rarely gets too carried away. Subletly is its core strength; you could spend hours dissecting and unearthing new sounds each time you listen. Introspective and beautiful, EX is available for previewing in full on YouTube for those who want to try before they buy, after which it’s US$12 for the full FLAC release from Bleep.com.
Plaid – Reachy Prints
I didn’t connect so well with their last effort, 2011’s Scintilli. Duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner seemed hellbent on squeezing their woozyily playful take on electronica into the then dominant dubstep narrative, if only on its margins. Subtelty has always been one of Plaid’s core strengths. They’ve made fine art of gently twisting melodies in on themselves so that each tune’s (initially) disparate tropes ultimately climax together. Reachy Prints sees Plaid not trying as hard to reach the dancefloor, instead returning to the intertwining of naive melodies underpinned by head-noddable beats that lent longevity to their first few1990s releases. At first blush, Plaid might not impress but stick with Reachy Prints as it gives up its secrets slowly over repeated listens. You can snag a 24-bit WAV version from Bleep.com for US$15.
Scanner – Electronic Garden
Interest in Robin Rimbaud’s cell phone scanning samples peaked for many in 1995 when Björk sampled the untitled lead track from his Mass Obersation EP, released under his now well-worn alias of Scanner. But being a one-trick pony isn’t a strong enough foundation on which to build a career…not for Rimbaud’s lack of trying though. To these ears, Rimbaud’s eavesdropped recordings of banal phone conversations wore out their welcome soon after the millennium so it was a both refreshing and surprising to hear this live recording as something that could’ve easily been plucked from the 1990s – burbling electronics driven forward by subtle rhythms – when it would’ve been called ambient-techno. There are some beautiful moments here. US$12 for the 16-bit FLAC release from Bleep.com.
Daniel Avery – Drone Logic
By far the most dancefloor-agreeable album featured here, Avery’s debut arrives as a startlingly accomplished long player. A highly polished production adds a glistening sheen to bouncy techno cuts that invariably squelch the listener to a destination marked ‘fun’. Think: Orbital’s earlier efforts or Simian Mobile Disco’s Fabriclive, dance music with an intellectual bent that’ll really shine on a top notch system. US$12 will get you the 16-bit FLACs from Bleep.