Music is, at its core, a subjective experience. Even the most tech-savvy musician might prefer to do math rock, and some people don’t like that. Sometimes heavily distorted sounds and discordant melodies could find mass appeal. Narrowing down all released albums into a top 10 is a purely subjective exercise.
However, there are a few factors to consider when awarding a ranking for creative endeavors. Is the artist evolving in their own sound? Is there anything new and exciting to notice in the production, writing, arrangement, etc.? Does it push boundaries in any way, whether to the detriment of the artist himself or to the advancement of a genre? Or did this author just repeat the album for far too long? (See, we’re getting subjective again.)
When creating the list this year, we wanted to push beyond certain genre boundaries. Very few of the albums would be considered pure dubstep or pure house or pure drum & bass. These ten artists visited outside of their comfort zones or created whole new soundscapes for their projects, some may simply have improved on past successes. Each of them has created a listening experience worthy of notoriety and recognition this year.
1. Grabbitz – Time is not real
[Grabbitz’] his own music history and love of rock have greatly influenced his productions and led us to his new release Time Is’t Real. On the surface, the album title alone is a homage to the past few years, when we were all stuck inside and days just blended into each other. Beneath the surface it could be a hint of the wide variety of time signatures on the album, leaving the listener in the dark from start to finish.
The only thread running through each song is, it almost goes without saying, Grabbitz. But that doesn’t relate to the person, it relates to the brand and theme that person has established. Pounding drums, gritty guitar riffs, incredible vocals and an irreverent appreciation for its roots – the album experience “Grabbitz” is truly unlike anything else in electronic music.
2. i_o, Lights – camp summer
Warehouse Summer, as the name suggests, combines two ideas: dancing in a dark warehouse late at night, but also the bright sunlight and hope of the summer months. Although i_o was known for his techno, his history as a drum & bass artist shines through on the album as well, as in “Leave It” and “Prayers”. Progressive house elements also run through the album and demonstrate i_o’s strength not only as a techno producer, but also as a music producer.
3. Favor – RESET
RESET feels very deliberately named as PF has long been relegated to the trap and party sound that sparked his career. Considering the ubiquity of some of his early songs like “Bap U” or “Wiggle Wop,” not to mention his stage name itself, it’s not entirely surprising that fans are so inclined. But he’s worked hard through the pandemic, releasing THE ISOLATION ALBUM in 2020, a collection of experimental and toned-down productions.
Now he’s ready for a full reset and we can’t stop listening. The previously released singles “Save Me”, “Superhuman”, “I See You” and “Losing My Mind” were able to reveal a significant but limited scope of the overall album experience. The entire project is beautifully designed and works like a complete story.
4. IMANU – Unfold
Playful instrumentation and creative sound design are the order of the day for the debut album by IMANU, who previously released under the name Signal Drum & Bass. From the legendary opening track featuring Kučka to collaborations with DROELOE, The Caracal Project, Wingtip & What So Not, Louis Futon, Zonderling, Pham and Josh Pan and many more, each track is an immersion into something incredible.
5. ODESZA – The Last Farewell
On the album, the band notes, “5 years later and here we are: ‘The Last Goodbye’. It’s an album about the power of connection. As we wrote it, we began to realize how influenced and inspired we are by the people around us. How we give parts of ourselves to others and carry that influence with us – that we resonate with each other. It was an awareness that we had not fully understood, and as we came to appreciate it, we wanted this project to honor our loved ones and our sense of community. The Last Goodbye is about getting back on track and celebratory getting back together. It’s supposed to be a record together: one that we hope listeners can experience together, with friends, dancing and enjoying that sense of connection after so long.”
6. Culprate – “Number Four”
While artists like Flume, Tipper, G Jones and others are often praised for their unique sound design, Culprate doesn’t get nearly as much recognition. For the last 10+ years, the British artist has stunned with creative works while also collaborating with the likes of Modestep, Mefjus, Mr. Bill and more, and even remixing Skrillex himself. His 2022 album Number Four (translated from the original Greek) is another example of him pushing the boundaries, an inimitable catchy tune for headphone users and audiophiles alike.
7. Moore Kismet – UNIVERSE
The album has been in a state for at least that long, with the first single ‘Rumor’ having been released over a year ago. With the exponential growth of Moore Kismet’s career, fans at almost every level have been able to grow and see the process unfold with them over time, something that rarely happens so ubiquitously.
8. Shades – From a vein
If Alix Perez and Eprom team up on anything Shades-related, you need to stand up and take notice. Eprom, talented independent producer and contemporary of G Jones, and Alix Perez, drum & bass wizard, kicked off in 2015 with their first self-titled EP, Shades. Now, seven years later, they’re on their second album and they’ve never sounded so in sync.
Combining their talents in terms of the genres they produce independently is not such a complicated task. But the way they play to each other’s strengths and find something new is impressive.
9. What not – anomaly
Without exaggerating, Anomaly is WSN’s best work to date (and he’d agree). Although the project is only 11 songs and 34 minutes, it never feels like it’s racing through and rushing towards the end. Quite the contrary, as there isn’t a second to catch your breath as each track powerfully leaps forward and builds the story.
10. Crywolf – Exuvium [OBLIVION Pt. 2]
From the beginning of the Crywolf project, the music has always expressed elements of introspection and self-discovery. Through the artist’s own struggles with mental health, the experiences and lessons he learned throughout his journey have been put on display front and center throughout the music. Aside from being an extremely talented musician himself, the background also lends the music an extremely visceral and familiar feel.
Nowhere is this motif more evident than on his latest album, Exuvium [OBLIVION Pt. II], created after a period of intense turbulence. The pain and sadness in the music is almost palpable, the powerful melodies and lyrics seething through the speakers with intense fury.