Sure, it’s individual tracks that drive the dancefloor and keep clubland humming. But sometimes—when you’re at home, driving your car, or otherwise engaged in some personal-headspace listening—you want to experience an artist’s oeuvre in a more holistic manner. That’s where EPs and albums come in, and 2015 had as many top-tier such releases as any we can remember. Below, find 25 of the year's absolute best, as chosen by the XLR8R staff.
25. Binh & Onur Ozer Treatment 02 (Treatment)
Little over a year on from their debut EP together, Binh and Onur Özer return with Treatment 02, an LP that is on first listen almost unrecognizable as the work of that same production team. The tripping, minimal beats that rolled throughout their first outing are substituted in favor of dark, breaks-heavy electro, without even a moment for reflection. Yet to anyone who follows the artists, or has been fortunate enough to attend one of their label parties, this progression will seem totally natural: Alongside Nicolas Lutz, Binh and Özer sit at the vanguard of a Berlin-centric movement of DJs that are as much dependent on old sci-fi electro and Detroit techno as they are the minimal sound more traditionally associated with the scene.
Revered by most for his skills behind the decks, Cognition was testament to the fact that Sherard Ingram really can piece together productions as skillfully as he can floor-moving mixes. “Acetylcholine” and “Dendrite” mirrored the kind of jacking, spacey electro and techno typical of those sets, but the subtle grooves of “eRbB4” waded into deeper waters, casting light on a more emotional side to his music.
Floods is the debut album from the team of Brooklyn producer Francis Harris and guitarist Gabe Hedrick. Dropping in November this year, the eight-track release was created using a vintage TR-808 drum machine, Eurorack modular system and two guitars, and was inspired by W.G. Sebald's interpretation of Rembrandt’s 1632 master work, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Listened to as a whole, Floods is an intensely captivating and cinematic piece of work; tracks of particular note include "Blue Sky Shoes" and "Now Grey."
One of the best techno long-players of the year definitely has to go to DJ Richard and his album, Grind. With this full-length release landing on Dial Records, DJ Richard presents a cohesive series of tracks that all individually build before slowly diving into drum-machine madness. Each track on the album could stand on its own as a single, but you can let the album play from beginning to end if your interested in a serious techno journey.
A couple of years ago, we tipped Berlin-based Welshman Dauwd as one to watch in our Bubblin’ Up series. Gentle bubbles they may be, but with his only release this year, Jupiter George, he proved his quality once again with three tracks of well-crafted, groovy house. Arguably his best yet, its appeal lies in its variety: the upbeat funk of the title track is set off by the playfulness of “Ritter Sport,” and the depth of “Take Four.”
Unrefined acid rhythms are the name of the game on the London-based duo's long-player. One could argue that it's not the most original sound around, and one would be right—but it's pure in intent, authentic in form and relentlessly powerful in execution. Paranoid London, above all, is an reminder of the the fun and the feeling—the pure jacking joy—that house can bring.
A much sought-after EP by those who missed its low-key release, PLO Man’s first solo outing does live up to that hype, with a sound far more mature than that debutant status may suggest. B-side “Type Damascus” was the standout, a patient slow-builder that mixed light percussion with old-school rave samples. “Rare Plastic” and “Nearly Invisible” weren’t far behind though, and are perhaps best explained with a reference to Hard Wax’s description: “outstanding left-field breakbeat house business.”
A vague sense of unease comes close to the surface on Heathered Pearls' Body Complex, released this year on Ghostly International; the Brooklyn artist has replaced some of the shimmer of 2013's Loyal with something a bit murkier, adding an layer of emotional resonance to the looped swells and drones. Still, Body Complex never strays far from the elegant beauty of Alexander's best songs—this is spine-tingling music of the highest degree.
Having submitted a number of EPs and completed the odd remix, Dave Krasemann (a.k.a Dave DK) is no stranger to the Kompakt family. Val Maira, however, is the German producer's first long-player on the imprint—his third in total—and it marks a sonic shift from much that has come before. Blissful and beautiful throughout, Val Maira's ambience and ability to evoke emotion is something that should be taken from 2015.
The release of Rising/Falling was German producer Daze Maxim's first release in over 15 years. The 11-tracker, which dropped in November following a string of EPs on the Hello?Repeat imprint, gained its title from meditation exercises that Daze Maxim adopted around the time of the album's conception. Sonically speaking, Rising/Falling does not stray from the confines of a minimalist framework, but the mature, ambient tones and their progressive nature mark it out as one to remember from the last twelve months.
2015 was a stellar year for the mysterious Berlin-based producer Marquis Hawkes. Having released four EPs this year via Aus Music, Mistress Recordings, and Fabric-affiliated label Houndstooth, it is our humble opinion that his Sweet EP takes the cake. Sweet emits a pulverulent, old-school, Detroit-influenced groove and funk that is consistent with his repetitive, disco-infused style. The modish, funky loops that set the groundwork for his production are given considerable spark and flux when put alongside Hawkes’ brawny analog drum work.
Ryan Lee West's (a.k.a. Rival Consoles) Howl is a deep and haunting collection that explores a wide range of emotions, from the dissonance eruptions and primal rhythms in "Howl," to the mournful improvisations of "3 Laments." Featuring mostly bespoke recordings conjured from West's instrument collection—which includes Moog, Prophet, guitar, and various pedals—it's the London-based artist's most personal and poignant work yet.
If you've been the manager of Ostgut Ton, one of the foremost techno labels of the day, it is clear you know what sort of records make a club tick. Couple that with ten years plus of production experience and a DJ diary that would be the envy of anyone, and what you have is the recipe for Nick Höppner and his debut full-length album, Folk. Given the amount of time he has spent in clubs over the years, it’s refreshing that Höppner stayed true to what he knows, and delivered a dynamically progressive proto-house album that is fantastic from beginning to end.
The prospect of a Sotofett album on Honest Jon’s caused quite a stir. The product, Drippin’ For a Tripp, is superbly far-out: Afforded the space of a double-pack, he really spread his creative wings, spanning his already broad compass of experimental styles in a way that his earlier releases hadn’t. With a host of collaborators to boot, the tracks range from warm Sex Tags UFO type house (“Drippin’ For 97 Mix” and “Nimbus-Mix”), through reggaeton-influenced bits (both versions of “Nondo”) to mad synth jams (“Space Dub” and “Spaced Outtro”).
After scrapping almost all the warmer synth material he had made in the last year, Kode9 began working on a new album, trying to channel everything that had happened in 2014 into music that reflected how he was actually feeling—something icier. In his most recent interview with XLR8R, the forebear of Hyperdub explained... “I have to start with some sort of concept, and the one I came up with on New Year’s Eve was nothing—nothing as a placeholder, an anti-concept. But when I started to research the concept, I started to realize what ‘nothing’ really was.”
Dekmantel made a very astute decision in lifting “What’s A Girl To Do?” from Fatima Yamaha’s 2004 release on Irish techno imprint D1 Recordings, and throwing it back into the spotlight this year: An insanely catchy tune with cross-genre appeal, it was everywhere. Though the title track might have overshadowed the rest of the EP, the electro-pop of “Between Worlds,” and the beatless “Plum Jelly” (an unusual harp-driven tune that oozes optimism) should not be overlooked.
Serving as Project Pablo's first full-length outing, I Want to Believe is an effortlessly groove-focused affair, its many walking basslines and loose-swung house and disco beats meeting an array of breezy chords and tastefully bright melodies along the way. Initially beginning in a bit more hazy territory with album opener "Sky Lounge," the record quickly starts letting the sun shine through, with cuts like "Follow It Up" and "Movin' Out" dipping into sections of relaxed funk, while—later on—another album highlight, "Always," digs a bit deeper beneath its woozy synth chords and crunchy layers of percussion. Glenn Jackson
Charles McCloud Duff has spent the past few years refining his sound, distilling it down to a style that fuses the dystopian feel of sci-fi electro and Detroit techno to the joyful jackability of Chicago house, laced with a charming wide-eyed innocence that emanates from the producer himself. He's capped off that run with Homesick, which sees him taking his electronic explorations into new territory.
To celebrate its 5oth release, the landmark K7! compilation series DJ-Kicks appointed the wickedly talented DJ Koze to compile a versatile, fluid, and masterful assemblage of music. Peppered with an amalgam of Kosi edits, Koze makes his way from outlandish singer-songwriter tracks to the hip-hop influences of Stones Throw, until eventually digging into an astounding and chimerical electronic sound.
Fabric 84 ranks as the highest mix-CD in our poll this year, and rightly so. Recorded live at the London club’s 15th-birthday party, it captures a moment from the latter hours of the event, the end product of which was unlike anything any artist in the mix series has produced before. Twisting through techno, breaks, plenty of synths and some funkier stuff too, it catalogs many of his works from over the years, all the while maintaining that special precision which puts his live show in a class above the rest.
Safe In Harbour, the first full-length album from Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer under the Vilod moniker, is a trippy, heady, avant-jazz masterpiece. Released via spiritual home Perlon, it finds the minimal masterminds doing exactly what they do best—crafting intricately woven rhythms and unearthly bass workouts for the heads.
In addition to her long-standing relationship with techno, Dasha Rush is no stranger to experimental electronic music—and Sleepstep is an impressive and highly conceptual culmination of her various talents and past projects. Its intention is to create a dream-like state that explores the liminal space where the waking world overlaps with sleep (and vice versa). The album's production and sound design is on a level with the likes of Pole, as well as Vladislav Delay, Alva Noto, and the rest of Raster-Noton's past and present roster; silence, noise, spatial awareness, and sonic decay are used with a meticulous finesse that brings Rush's slumberous hinterland to life. Zara Wladawsky
Levon Vincent’s self-titled debut album emerged out of a furor of free downloads in the days leading up to its official release (orchestrated by the man himself), and was in his words “music for the ugly ducklings of the world.” Drenched in bold synth lines, he took a slightly more melodic path than past releases, and also showed his softer side with cuts like “Launch Ramp To The Sky.” The New Yorker’s grittiness still remained though, with tougher cuts like “Woman Is Angel” and “Small Whole-Numbered Ratio” rounding off the album.
Having received his doctorate in "The Neuroscience Of Pain," the result of five years’ hard graft, 29-year-old composer-producer Sam Shepherd marked 2015 with the release of Elaenia, his highly anticipated debut album via Pluto (UK) and Luaka Bop (US). Interestingly, the release, which was finished in July 2015 but contains sketches that can be traced back to the summer of 2010, sees the former Plastic People resident draw himself even further away from convention. His earlier EPs, the majority of which were released through Eglo Records (the imprint he founded with Alexander Nut), were all blessed with the Floating Point stamp; Eleania, however, sees him almost abandon the traditional club format all together, tapping in his roots in classical music to produce seven blissfully soothing tracks, all of which blend seamlessly together to form a 43-minute piece of art that transcends genres and will exceed even one’s wildest expectations.
It was around October that Vin Ploile appeared in the XLR8R inbox—and what a welcome gift it was. Vin Ploile is Petre Inspirescu's third album, and his first on Mule Musiq. His first two long-players, 2009's Intr-o Seara Organica and 2012's Grădina Onirică, were released through [a :rpia:r], the revered imprint he co-runs alongside Raresh and Rhadoo. The album, which was almost entirely crafted using live instruments, sees the Romanian DJ-producer explore more ambient, experimental pastures, marking a significant shift away from the hypnotic groove-laden techno for which he has been a leading ambassador over the last decade. As with all the leading albums, the beauty of Vin Ploile really does lie within the sum of its parts, rather than any particular track.