The 10 Best Electronic Albums Of 2022
No genre list is easy to put together, but I have to imagine that electronic is among the harder ones to write. After all, where does one begin to draw the line with a style whose boundaries are so nebulous? Google “best electronic albums 2022” and you’re in for a truly disparate array of results: pop bangers from Charli XCX, Vegas-ready EDM by Diplo, heady ambient techno courtesy of Huerco S. Hell, even Kali Malone’s Living Torch comes up, and that album is mostly centered on neoclassical techniques and ancient tones.
As someone who spent the better part of this year studiously listening to and writing about groundbreaking music good and bad, I still initially had no idea where to start. And so I simply decided to narrow things down to the albums that lodged themselves in my headphones most over the course of the last 12 months. From Tomu DJ’s aqueous spin on footwork to the Soft Pink Truth’s funky house experiments to Pendant’s shapeshifting cyberpunk opus, this is a varied roundup of records. It contains sonic textures fit for the pregame, the dance floor, the afterparty, and the early morning chill-out.
Here are the 10 strongest electronic records of 2022. Check out the list (and a playlist of favorite tracks) below, and leave your own favorites in the comments.
It’s wild that I’m kicking off a year-end electronic round up with an album out on Saddle Creek. But with his recent output as Pendant, Chris Adams has blurred the lines between indie rock and techno in a shockingly authentic and rewarding way. Pendant’s 2020 debut, Through A Coil, flirted with shoegaze and Britpop to mixed results. The project’s latest, Harp, reimagines Adams’ vision as we’ve known it. Composed entirely on a laptop, this one presents a sharp contrast to the guitar-driven noise pop he came up exploring with the Bay Area bands Calculator and Never Young.
Harp is as indebted to Kode9 as it is to Comadre. Using breakbeats and samples to come to terms with the death of Adams’ father back when he was 18, these 13 songs race by at a mile a minute. The album’s imagery is tied to old motorcycles, so it’s appropriate that the interplay between the lyrics and arrangements evokes the way fluorescent lights blur as you drive fast through a concrete tunnel at night. Countless rock artists have tried embracing dance tropes over the years. There’s often a palpable corniness to these outings, even if the music itself is good. Harp is a cyberpunk behemoth that exists in its own gripping universe. The similarities between DIY shows and warehouse parties have always been there. Harp highlights the throughline in a way that isn’t contrived.
On her sophomore album, Brooklyn guitarist Rachika Nayar gracefully weaves gossamer melodies and rhythmic intensity. Heaven Come Crashing touches on everything from Midwest emo to drum ‘n’ bass but is impressively cohesive. It’s a 56-minute exercise in overcast dissociation. On the best songs (“Our Wretched Fate” and the title track), Nayar enlists buzzy Bay Area singer-songwriter Maria BC for vocals. Their wispy lyrical contributions enhance the album’s depth, offering a snapshot of two wide-eyed young talents using noise to cultivate an illusion of endlessness. Heaven Come Crashing finds Nayar spreading her wings in countless directions at once without coming across disjointed.
As founding members of The Sea And Cake, ’90s Chicago staples Sam Prekop and John McEntire are some of the most lauded post-rock musicians of all time. However, they’re relative newcomers to the realm of electronic music. On Sons Of, the pair swap their trademark guitar twinkles and galloping grooves for modular synths and motorik arrangements. The four-track album clocks in at almost an hour and falls in the gray area between new-age, ambient, and celestial krautrock. The whole thing is united by a spontaneity that captures the joy of pressing buttons and patching cables at random until something cool happens. The burbles and bleeps are outlined by rudimentary sequenced drum patterns that quietly pull from their Illinois hometown’s rich history of Black house music. Prekop’s other recent solo album, The Sparrow, is another essential 2022 listen. But when forced to pick between that and Sons Of, the liveliness of the latter makes it the clear choice. This is a record composed with complicated machinery that manages to radiate pure humanity.
Whatever The Weather - Whatever The Weather (Ghostly)
Since 2018, London’s Loraine James has displayed an enviable penchant for cultivating tracks that recall the golden age of Warp Records. But never has her introverted music been as withdrawn as it is on her self-titled debut under the fresh alias Whatever The Weather. On the album, James uses skittery metallic soundscapes to simulate the variance of heat. With temperatures for titles to provide context, the tracks here exist within a range of zero to 30 degrees celsius. The timbres reflect this dynamic world building: Colder selections are ethereal, whereas drums and vocals occasionally make their presences felt on the balmier cuts. It’s nuanced and pristine, as simultaneously jaw-dropping and severe as the tundra that adorns its cover. James’ music has consistently dwelled at the fringes of ambient, but hearing her go full Boards Of Canada with Whatever The Weather is mesmerizing.
At this point, when I hear the name Two Shell, the first word that comes to mind is “rinsed.” If you follow a certain sphere of DJs, writers, and producers, you’ve probably been force-fed the hyperpop-meets-jungle track “Home” too many times to count. Regardless of whether or not you’ve gotten your fill of cuts from the anonymous London duo, though, there’s no denying that they were among the most important fixtures in club music to emerge in 2022. After getting their start putting out solid-but-innocuous techno on labels like Livity Sound, the elusive UK artists spent the past few months cementing their place as 100 gecs for people who spend their weekends raving at Fabric instead of scrolling TikTok. Released hot on the heels of the aforementioned single, the June EP Icons found Two Shell elaborating on the underground/mainstream dichotomy that garnered them acclaim early in the year. Crisp drums, SOPHIE-esque pitch-shifted vocals, and throbbing basslines lay the framework for techno-y garage that sounds like it’s being beamed straight from Mars.
Hanging around New York City DJ hotspots this past summer, it felt like everyone had a theory about Two Shell. I distinctly remember overhearing whispered rumors that they were secretly signed to XL and also that they were Overmono in morph suits. My personal prediction is that the uber-online zoomers discover them sooner rather than later and they actually hit it big. For now, let’s just enjoy these tracks while they retain the wonderful energy of a loosely kept secret.
The Soft Pink Truth - Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? (Thrill Jockey)
As one half of the inimitable experimental duo Matmos, it would be fine if Baltimore sound artist Drew Daniel was content to rest on his laurels. But when he isn’t busy making music out of atonal items like washing machines and snails with romantic/creative partner M.C. Schmidt, he crafts comparably approachable electronic tracks under the moniker the Soft Pink Truth. His latest LP, Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This?, arrived hot on the heels of two projects: May’s Matmos full length Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer and the August Soft Pink Truth EP Was It Ever Real? The record infuses a bevy of styles – ambient, jazz, funk – with retro disco cool. It came to life over COVID lockdowns, when Daniel assembled a 14-person virtual band featuring members of groups including Drugdealer, Acetone, and Horse Lords. These collaborators breathe wonky life into the album’s 10 lively tracks.
Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? might be Daniel’s most radio-friendly record to date, but it’s still teeming with shimmering layers of inexplicable noise to ponder. That every Soft Pink Truth album title is posed as a question is fitting, since all of Daniel’s work is notably puzzling. Matmos releases tend to remain inexplicable even after heavy analysis, but it seems like answers might actually linger somewhere at the center of Daniel’s solo material. It’s on you to dig deep to locate them.
Tomu DJ’s featherweight techno is cute, but don’t get it twisted: Her formula has what it takes to light up a neon-drenched party. The Bay Area artist chefs up music that is as whimsical as it is clubby. Her latest, Half Moon Bay, builds on the inventive sound she pioneered on 2021’s FEMINISTA. Inspired by the grayscale beauty of the California coast, it finds her using downtempo textures to toy with the concept of home. Tomu initially started making dance tracks as a way to explore her identity as a trans woman and grapple with psychosis and tragedy. The end result is always stunning and clearly intentional, but rarely as raw as its unspoken subject matter. True to this tendency, Half Moon Bay is deceptively simple, mostly composed with familiar drum machine presets, billowing pads, and blocky leads that convey an almost childlike wonder. But she somehow makes these barren arrangements sound full, an aspect that calls to mind the remarkability of the drab vistas the record pays homage to. Enlisting guests like DJ Manny, SUCIA!, and kimdollars1, Tomu proves that her music is at its most effective when she lets others help shape it. Bouncy, crystalline, and fluttering, Half Moon Bay solidifies her place as one of the most talented rising artists in the footwork scene today.
Since she’s one of the most prolific avant-garde artists to operate within any medium, it would take a real flop for a Björk album to fall on deaf ears. But it’s been a long time since one of the Icelandic legend’s new records felt like as much of an event as Fossora. Delving into the relationship between mushrooms, the pandemic, and the human experience, her 10th record warps organic instruments (namely bass clarinet) into hopeful, unfamiliar auras. In the leadup to the album, she actively cited gabber as a key influence. However, this mossy, subterranean record is more akin to the music of a psychedelic Kate Bush than that of Sonic Dragolgo. Fossora isn’t the easiest Björk outing to parse, but that’s likely why it’s alluring enough to hold its own alongside career standouts like Homogenic and Debut. Even when she allows herself to be accessible, Björk loves to make listeners grasp at straws. Fossora is great because it’s the rare work from Björk that seems to translate her growing baffled by her own ingenuity in real time.
DJ Python had a hell of a year. Between launching the label Worldwide Unlimited, dropping the loungey EP Club Sentimientos Vol. 2, and revitalizing his persona Luis for an atmospheric ode to friendship, it’s hard to pinpoint his 2022 peak. While all of those aforementioned endeavors are well-worth digging into, Brian Piñyero’s most memorable outing was his Ela Minus collaboration ♡ (pronounced “corazon”). Across just three tracks, the electronic favorites showcase a newfound knack for pop songwriting – these songs beg to score a tasteful commercial as much as they do a dusky set at Dekmantel. Opener “Kiss U” injects the deep reggaeton of early Python records like Dulce Compañia and Derretirse with a ’90s trip-hop feel. “Abril Lluvias Mil” is woozy and radiant, like the pink glow of a lava lamp. And the real earworm is “Pájaros en Verano,” on which Minus searches for gratitude in the wake of pandemic isolation. “Clouds, food, sleep, books, you/ After all the days that never happened,” she sings over synthetic mallets and elongated hi-hat sizzles. The duo don’t have to say a lot for the track to resonate, exemplifying the effortless poignance that makes ♡ such a special EP.
Merging the compact production techniques of microhouse with more heartfelt songwriting, Axel Boman’s double LP LUZ/Quest For Fire is an after-hours tearjerker. The latest from the seasoned Stockholm DJ and Studio Barnhus co-founder is as warm and fuzzy as its distorted cover. From the fluctuating arpeggiations of “Bhuka” to the murky ambient techno of “Cacti Is Plural,” the sprawling 18-track collection is also surprisingly inviting and concise. LUZ closer “Hold On” is the most moving dance track I heard all year; “Don’t be scared/ Even if it’s been scary for a while/ Lift your head up/ Give yourself a smile,” uncredited guest Baba Stiltz sings in the opening verse, helping the cut land somewhere in between the sounds of Boman mentor DJ Koze and circa-2009 the xx. Although the two albums were inspired by Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 prehistoric adventure film Quest For Fire, they evidently come straight from Boman’s eccentric gut, too. LUZ and Quest For Fire strip house to its roots and use the space between the notes to heighten the role genuine emotion can play in electronic music.