The Best Albums of 2014

Albums can be a tricky thing in the electronic music scene. So much stock has been put into the single, which extends back to the days of the disco 12

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Complex Original

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Albums can be a tricky thing in the electronic music scene. So much stock has been put into the single, which extends back to the days of the disco 12" singles, where extended mixes were everything. For a scene that's so singles-driven, in an industry that's equally as singles-driven, there might not be a point to making albums, but then again, that's what makes an artist an artist, right? This is the conundrum that dance music acts face: sure, you need a song that will establish you from the pack, but at some point, people are going to ask where your album is. And while many might assume that today's scene is devoid of real talent, we've been blessed with a great run of albums in 2014, even if the majority of them didn't make much of a dent on the Billboard charts. Here are the best electronic albums of 2014.

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Duck Sauce - Quack

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Release Date: April 15, 2014
Label: Fool's Gold

A-Trak and Armand van Helden finally put all of the pieces together from five years of hard work on their disco boogie-as-EDM project Duck Sauce. "Quack" isn't as much of an album as it is a non-stop party, as if someone renovated 2001 Odyssey in Brooklyn and re-made Saturday Night Fever for the #plurnt generation. van Helden's roots go back to the early '90s house scene, an era defined by ravey, yet soulful cuts, rap's style on the edge of panic. A-Trak is of course a teenaged DMC champion-turned-Vegas big-room icon and Fool's Gold Records label executive. Thus, the duo's aware and talented enough to ground themselves in early '80s disco as an style, but able to wildly sample a near half-century of dance and infuse it into that sound. "Barbra Streisand," "aNYway," "Radio Stereo," and "It's You" were previously released and serve as tent-posts by which the sound is crafted. Funny, funky, ravey and weird, it's when you hear pulse pounding arena rock-meets-disco smash "NRG" that the album really hits another level and becomes something not just incredible, but truly special.

Lenzman - Looking At The Stars

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Release Date: June 16, 2014
Label: Metalheadz

While the Metalheadz sound has become synonymous with the more scifi, cerebral side of the drum & bass scene, Goldie's always been about the soul of the music. Adding Dutch producer Lenzman gave Goldie the best of both worlds, and on Lenzman's debut album Looking At The Stars, you felt like you were sitting on the roof of your homey's car, staring into space while marveling at how vast and beautiful the galaxy can truly be.

ODESZA - In Return

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Release Date: September 6, 2014
Label: Counter Records

Heading into the fall, you need a project that's going to sound great while traveling with heavier coast on. In Return, the latest album-length project from ODESZA, was "it" for people. Released on Ninja Tune's Counter imprint, ODESZA's sophomore album showed the growth they've experience in the two years since they released Summer's Gone. With the EDM scene growing out of the hands-in-the-air reckless abandon of the festival scene in search for something more, the chilled bop ODESZA is creating is just what the doctor ordered.

Arca - Xen

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Release Date: November 4, 2014
Label: Mute

Venezuela's Arca has been bubbling for a bit, although it took Kanye West's Yeezus to get his name outside of the chin-stroking circles. The Mute-released Xen channeled Arca's sound, which wears its fear, influence, and beauty on its sleeve, creating something that's truly unique in a sea of also-rans. Xen is Arca's alter ego, but it's also an interesting project to judge the future of new music with. We got a taste via his work with Kanye (with his fingerprint being left on tracks like "Hold My Liquor" and "I'm In It"), he's produced some of FKA twigs' finest material, and is collaborating with Bjork on her next project. The future is going to be weird, funky, and beautiful.

Mefjus - Emulation

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Release Date: November 17, 2014

Label: Critical Music

Kasra's ear for the next big thing is what's driven Critical for the last 12 years. One of the best releases on the imprint is Mefjus' Emulation, which highlights where the neuro scene's gone in 2014 and where it'll be heading in the future. There's something about those spastic rhythms that the Austrian producer provides, taking cues from the best: Ed Rush & Optical, Konflict, Rockwell, and others. Yet, while some might be assuming this is wall-to-wall bangers, he throws in a gut punch like "Taking" that is all brash bass set to a hypnotic downtempo vibe—with vocals! The future is dark and gritty, and it moves at 160BPM.

DJ Q - Ineffable

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Release Date: March 31, 2014
Label: Local Action

Is UK garage returning? It's hard to say. When listening to DJ Q work, you get the feeling that the pop scene, which has grown to appreciate material from Disclosure and other producers who are obviously influenced by the sound. Sadly, it feels like Q is the only producer really making a splash outside of the scene. That's not to say that Ineffable failed to make an impact—hell, we noticed it. We're just wondering what it'll take to get UKG to where it truly needs to be: regular radio rotation.

Skrillex - Recess

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Release Date: March 18, 2014
Label: OWSLA

When Skrillex does much of anything, it's certainly cause for alarm. He's likely the single name most commonly associated with EDM, his take on dubstep opening the Pandora's Box of dance-as-pop yet again and in many cases directly leading to where we are right now. Thus, when he released a playable app game on in March, interest was piqued when a countdown clock appeared in the game, with March 14 as the end date. On that day, starting from track one (and in 30 minute intervals thereafter), the OWSLA boss' debut studio album Recess was released. A wild journey through dubstep ("All's Fair In Love and Brostep"), big room bass, and progressive rap tracks with Chance the Rapper, K-Pop pair CL and G-Dragon and yes, '90s party exhorter Fatman Scoop, too. If that's not enough, there's funky IDM-inspired "Doompy Poomp" to top it off, making the release surprisingly well rounded and wholly entertaining as well.

Showcasing Skrillex as more a matured artist than one-trick pony, it may be—alongside Porter Robinson's Worlds—one of the year's most important albums-as-musical statements of EDM 2014.

Rustie - Green Language

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Release Date: August 25, 2014
Label: Warp

Glaswegian producer Rustie called his second album Green Language a more serious attempt at album production. Upon hearing Danny Brown guest-vocaled rap anthem "Attak," that notion becomes completely obvious. As does most of this release, it hops out of the speakers at the listener, alarm clock heavy bass with Brown's braggadocious bars serving as a bombastic moment of clarity that as a producer, Rustie truly has arrived. "Lost" features Redinho and sounds like someone very lost and very alone in the trap is playing Zapp's "Computer Love" in a frozen void, while Raptor's zipping, yet blissful synths make it the most euphoric, yet tough turn-up anthem of 2014. Dig deeper, and when soft-toned R&B siren Muhsinah glistens over the funk-driven electric swing, it gives the album something more.

Icicle - Entropy

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Release Date: November 10, 2104
Label: Shogun Audio

With drum & bass seemingly getting a bigger push from a number of doubting Thomas outlets, it's great to see that the actual albums that the scene birthed are becoming bigger and better. Icicle spent some time focusing on non-dnb material, and it feels like his return has invigorated everything he works on. Entropy is just as intense as you want it, regardless of the BPM, focusing on a bleek side of humanity and electronics that many hint at, but few can truly encapsulate.

Mr. Mitch - Parallel Memories

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Release Date: December 1, 2014
Label: Planet Mu

For the last year, Mr. Mitch spent time abandoning the sound that made us fall in love with him—the heavier, more trap-influenced side of UK grime—for a more calmer sound. His "peace edits" kicked it off, but it was his material for Planet Mu that truly solidified this move. Grime in general has seen the scene evolve with more melodic, drum-less sounds, but no one has properly honed and crafted it quite like Mitch. There's a beauty to his material that could help this sound pop in America... we hope.

David Heartbreak - Rose Colored Bass

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Release Date: November 18, 2014
Label: OWSLA

We really believe that Heartbreak doesn't care what you think, but he does want you to feel the passion in his sounds. The album's eponymous single is crazy. Dubstep was created when dub reggae met drum & bass; inverting that formula on it's head, Heartbreak instead makes tracks that feel like dubstep is melding with dub reggae, moody basslines exploding with electric energy and then sometimes spilling over into footwork-style bass. Add Maluca's vocal to the production and it's a potent mix. When an album opens with an interlude that feels like Axl Rose's piano solo from Guns n' Roses' "November Rain," and trap-friendly excursions titled "Armageddon," "War of the Roses," "Rebel," and "Embrace The Unknown," this is something entirely different. When Skylar Grey appearing on your album as a guest vocalist is almost an afterthought to marvelling at top-notch sound design, it's a truly next-level album.

deadmau5 - while(1<2)

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Release Date: June 17, 2014

Label: Astralwerks

In a word, deadmau5's latest album while(1<2) is cinematic. In a sea of albums that hit the EDM scene that are chock full of radio-leaning bangers, deadmau5 crafted a project (split into two sprawling journeys) that we actually saw develop via his SoundCloud page. Maybe that's part of his mystique; he's so open and honest, yet thrown in the same bin as DJs, producers, and events he doesn't rock with. Instead of huddling off into his own corner of the field, deadmau5 stands his ground, making huge productions that you can't help but appreciate. It's a project meant to grow on you, where the nuances and subtleties of his chords and soundscapes might not hit on first listen, but when they do, they hit you like a ton of bricks.

LAKIM - This Is Her

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Release Date: February 25, 2014
Label: Soulection

Turning down is necessary, and when we're back at mine, it's the music of the Soulection camp that most readily satisfies. It's interesting to see the gray area between how EDM reacted to trap (and instrumental hip-hop sounds in general) and the influence of electronic vibes in hip-hop-based producers. Guys like Ta-Ku, Mr. Carmack, and LAKIM have as many roots in hip-hop as they do in electronic music, and finding that happy medium is part of the beauty of discovery. On LAKIM's This Is Her, we're inundated with what happens when R&B-influenced sounds collide with instrumental, electronic-based jams. You could categorize this entire LP as #feels and we'd know exactly what you mean. LAKIM has a way with grooves, infusing his hypnotic soundscapes with immaculate sample choices. There's not much dancing to be done to This Is Her, at least in terms of the uptempo, spastic variety; this is a project to open up a few bottles of wine to, and take in the beauty of someone close.

Traxman - Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2

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Release Date: May 16, 2014
Label: Planet Mu

While the loss of DJ Rashad is a huge blow to the burgeoning footwork scene, the show can and will indeed go on, especially with legends like Traxman still in the mix. For his second full length album on Planet Mu, Traxman takes us on a journey through his mind, which is full of dusty loops, throbbing subs, and skittering drums. He has a way of pairing found sounds together, bouncing what could be perceived as diverse ideas together like it's nothing (like the way he worked two obvious bits on "Let It Roll Geto"), or just crafting an intricate round of sound (like on the jazzy opener, "Time Slip"). His sources know no bounds, either; from soulful wails to heavy metal riffin', da mind of Traxman is expansive and excellent, and the footwork scene is in safe hands with producers like him willing to keep an experimental edge to their material.

Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

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Release Date: October 6, 2014
Label: Warp

Maybe there's no more apropos-titled album of 2014 than LA-based Flying Lotus' bass opus You're Dead! Creatively, Flying Lotus has always been respected for being willing to take his sounds ahead of the curve. However, on his latest he goes one step beyond. At various points the listener is literally left aghast, amazed, excited, shocked, and in awe—possibly to the place of feeling like all other music by comparison had suffered a demise. "Coronus, The Terminator" sounds like the peanut butter jam of the year, smooth melody with a crunching break-beat, yet overall satisfying. Of course, "Never Catch Me" is a Kendrick Lamar on his rap dude-as-soul man vibe showcase, two iconoclastic talents dapping each other up in the form of one amazing track. When a producer who thinks like a painter is given an unlimited palette and unobstructed canvas, 20 tracks later you feel the aural equivalent of staring at the Mona Lisa and getting why Da Vinci's an absolute genius.

Moody Good - Moody Good

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Release Date: June 3, 2014

Label: OWSLA

Dubstep's in an interesting place right now. While other forms of electronic music have eclipsed it in terms of popularity, the scene hasn't gone anywhere. Did it lose it's way? It's hard to say. Trap blew up, then the bass music scene meandered into a number of different lanes. Maybe it just needed someone to help realign the sound. Maybe the beginning of that is Moody Good's project, which is the worlds of dubstep, hip-hop, grime, colliding to create the music we'd been waiting for. Sure, this isn't the first time that's happened, but most of those collaborations don't sound this good, from a sound design aspect through the concept and execution. It could be that the project had the right minds behind it–it's a joint release from Skrillex's OWSLA and Chase & Status' MTA imprints–or just that right now, in a world where more rappers are going left while producers are going right. This is the catalyst for that next chapter.

Wen - Signals

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Release Date: March 17, 2014
Label: Keysound Recordings

When you think of UK grime, you probably think of the hyper, pulsating riddims that someone like Spooky creates or Tempa T spits over. The "new" guard of the UK grime scene is all about trimming the beats down to their bare bones, then letting the space between those bones speak volumes. Keysound's been a huge proponent of that style, and on Wen's Signals, we get to see first hand how much of an impact these sparse productions can make.

That's not to say that we lose any rhythm or snappiness when we break these tunes down, but they're definitely on a different wavelength. Blackdown steps up to collaborate on "Lunar," which one could describe as being a 2014 soundtrack for the classic flick The Abyss. The "Devils mix" of "Nightcrawler" keeps things as intense as ever without the need for crushing drums. Pure synths and atmosphere to bring that feeling of creepy dread alive. Throughout the project, you get that feeling: without the predictable buildups and breakdowns, you're left with intricately-design worlds that quickly make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It's a beautiful reset to the old guard, and judging by how people are reacting to the Boxed way of thinking, there's much more where this has come from.

Aphex Twin - Syro

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Release Date: September 22, 2014

Label: Warp

It's kind of amazing that Aphex Twin can take 13 years off from official releases and pick up right where he left off. Syro isn't the sound of someone trying to keep up with the joneses, or reinvent the wheel. Thirteen years is a long time, and it's amazing to see that Aphex was so ahead of his time with his influence that he can dive right back into the scene and make music that's still heads above whomever you might consider competition. There's no real rhyme or reason for the sounds he picks; they just work because he finds ways to make them work. Syro is beautiful, challenging, odd, and funky, sometimes all of those things at the same time... and more.

TEKLIFE and Hyperdub - Next Life

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Release Date: November 10, 2014
Label: Hyperdub

Some days, you might catch some of the DAD staff going through DJ Rashad's back catalog, nodding our heads to the footwork pressure. Losing him was one of the hardest things to have to come to grips with in 2014, as his impact was really just starting to be felt on a worldwide level. So many producers and imprints are just not beginning to understand what that juke/footwork sound truly entails, but you don't have to long for new Rashad, as his TEKLIFE crew has things covered.

Hyperdub, the last imprint Rashad was afiliated with, linked up with the squad to put out Next Life, a massive compilation featuring the entire TEKLIFE squad (including DJs Spinn, Manny, Earl, and Taye, Gantman, RP Boo, Traxman, Tripletrain, and many more) highlighting not just what makes the TEKLIFE team so progressive, but what makes footwork so important to the musical landscape these days. Sure, everyone is influenced by hip-hop and jazz, but how are you flipping it into something unique? The squad is deep, and they showed out in memory of Rashad, which is something we imagine they'll be doing for years to come.

Porter Robinson - Worlds

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Release Date: August 12, 2014

Label: Astralwerks

Looking back on 2014, this is the year where EDM's detractors stopped talking and started doing. We have to imagine that Porter Robinson, a producer who was seen as the next representative for EDM's new wave (as well as being a guy with releases on OWSLA, co-signs from Tiesto, and worldwide acclaim) decided to "do him" and put out a challenging, beautiful project like Worlds. This album, which was steeped in nostalgia and the future, showed Porter at his best: huge melodies, indie pop sensibilities, and hip-hop influence all crashing into this tale of a boy meeting a girl... a girl that happened to be a robot. Or maybe it's about discovery, finding one's self amidst a world that's so easy to get wrapped up in. It feels like there's so much going on here, so much to explore, and that's the beauty of Worlds.

So much of today's EDM scene isn't inviting to longer thoughts–everyone is wrapped up in the moment, making it harder to break out, spread your wings, and look at tracks as more than "tools" or "anthems." Porter tackle the challenge of easy money to become a bigger artist, and found an audience that wasn't just waiting to accept him; they were eager for the exact same change. Lucky for us, he delivered.

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