At its core, music is a subjective experience. Even the most technically proficient musician might prefer making math rock, and some people don’t like that. Sometimes, heavily distorted sounds and discordant melodies might garner mass appeal. Narrowing down all the albums released into a top 10 is a purely subjective exercise therein.
However, there are some factors to take into account when doling out a ranking for creative endeavors. Does the artist evolve in their own sound? Is there something new and exciting to notice in the production, writing, arrangement, etc.? Does it push limits in any way, whether to the detriment of the artist themselves or to the progression of a genre? Or did this writer simply have the album on repeat for far too long? (See, there we go being subjective again.)
In creating the list this year, we aimed to go outside of specific genre boundaries. Very few of the albums would be considered strictly dubstep, or strictly house, or strictly drum & bass. These ten artists visited outside of their comfort zones or created whole new soundscapes for their projects, some might have simply improved upon past successes. Each of them created a listening experience that is worthy of notoriety and acknowledgement this year.
1. Grabbitz – Time Isn’t Real
[Grabbitz’] own musical history and love of rock heavily influenced his productions and led us to his new release, Time Isn’t Real. On the surface, the album title alone is an homage to the past couple years when we were all stuck inside and days blend into each other. Beneath the surface, it could be a reference to the wide variety of time signatures on the album which keep listeners guessing from start to finish.
The one common thread between each song is, it almost goes without saying, Grabbitz. But that’s not to refer to the person, but the brand and theme that that person has established. Pounding drums, gritty guitar riffs, incredible vocals, and an irreverent appreciation for his roots, the “Grabbitz” album experience is really unlike anything else in electronic music.
2. i_o, Lights – Warehouse Summer
Warehouse Summer, as the name implies, blends two ideas: dancing in a dark warehouse late at night, but also the bright sunlight and hope of the summer months. Though i_o was known for his techno, his history as a drum & bass artist also shines through on the album, as in “Leave It” and “Prayers.” Elements of progressive house also permeate the album, demonstrating i_o’s strength as not just a techno producer, but a music producer.
3. Party Favor – RESET
RESET feels very intentionally named, as PF has long been relegated into the trap and party sound that ignited his career. Considering the ubiquity of some of his early songs like “Bap U” or “Wiggle Wop,” not to mention his artist name itself, it’s not entirely surprising that fans have leaned that way. But he’s worked hard through the pandemic, releasing THE ISOLATION ALBUM in 2020, a collection of experimental and more toned-down productions.
Now, he’s ready for a full reset and we can’t stop listening. Previously released singles “Save Me,” “Superhuman,” “I See You,” and “Losing My Mind” were able to reveal a significant but limited scope of the full album experience. The full project is beautifully crafted and works as a complete story.
4. IMANU – Unfold
For the debut album from IMANU, who previously released drum & bass under the name Signal, playful instrumentation and creative sound design are the names of the game. From the iconic opening track with Kučka, to collaborations with DROELOE, The Caracal Project, Wingtip & What So Not, Louis Futon, Zonderling, Pham and josh pan, and far more, each track is a dive into something incredible.
5. ODESZA – The Last Goodbye
On the album, the band notes: “5 years later and we are here: ‘The Last Goodbye’. It’s an album that is centered around the power of connection. While writing it, we began to realize just how impacted and inspired we are by the people around us. How we impart pieces of ourselves onto others and carry that influence with us onward – that we echo out through one another. It’s been an awareness that we hadn’t fully grasped, and in coming to appreciate it, we wanted this project to honor our loved ones and our sense of community. ‘The Last Goodbye’ is about stepping back in, returning to each other in celebration. It’s meant to be a shared record: one we hope that listeners can experience together, with friends, dancing and rejoicing in that sense of interconnection after so much time apart.”
6. Culprate – ‘Number Four’
While artists like Flume, Tipper, G Jones, and others are often lauded for their unique sound design, Culprate doesn’t get nearly as much credit. For the last 10+ years, the UK artist has been dazzling with creative bodies of work, while also working with the likes of Modestep, Mefjus, Mr. Bill, and more, and even remixing Skrillex himself. His 2022 album ‘Number Four’ (translated from its original Greek) is another example of pushing the limits, an inimitable piece of ear candy for headphones users and audiophiles.
7. Moore Kismet – UNIVERSE
The album has been in some sort of 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 all levels have been able to grow and see the process unfold with them over time, something that rarely gets to happen so ubiquitously.
8. Shades – From a Vein
When Alix Perez and Eprom team up for anything Shades-related, it is required you stand up and take notice. Eprom, talented producer in his own right and G Jones contemporary, and Alix Perez, drum & bass wizard, kicked things off in 2015 with their inaugural self-titled EP, Shades. Now seven years later, they’re on their second album and they’ve never sounded more in sync.
Combining their talents, in terms of the genres they produce independently, isn’t such a complicated task. But the way they play off each others’ strengths and find something new is awe-inspiring.
9. What So Not – Anomaly
Without exaggerating, Anomaly is WSN’s best work to date (and he would agree). Though the project spans just 11 songs, and 34 minutes, it never feels like it is speeding through and rushing toward the end. Quite the opposite, in fact, as there is not a second of room to catch your breath as each track bounds powerfully forward, building the story.
10. Crywolf – exuvium [OBLIVION Pt. 2]
Since the beginning of the Crywolf project, the music has always expressed elements of introspection and self-discovery. Through the artist’s own battles with mental health, the experiences and lessons learned throughout their journey have been exhibited front and center throughout the music. On top of being an extremely talented musician in his own right, the background also gives the music an exceedingly visceral and familiar feeling.
That motif is nowhere more salient than his latest album, exuvium [OBLIVION Pt. II], created following a period of intense turmoil. The pain and grief in the music is nearly tangible, the powerful melodies and lyrics seething through the speakers with intense fury.