Our favorite music of 2013 | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Our favorite music of 2013 

Six Reader writers, 12 months, 30 picks—and not one list that just rearranges the same records you'll see everywhere else

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Electronic music | Miles Raymer

The words "electronic music" used to be used interchangeably with "dance music" to denote the evolutionary descendants of house and techno, but now that hip-hop and pop artists (among others) have joined in on the exploration of new machine-­generated sonic terrain, the term has become broader—and the music it describes has become richer and more fascinating. Here are some prime examples.


M.I.A., Matangi (N.E.E.T./Interscope)

Maya Arulpragasam's fourth and arguably greatest album to date exemplifies the trend of combining chart-worthy pop with harshly experimental electronic production. Produced by an A-plus team of collaborators great and small, Matangi is aggressive but infinitely hooky, a garishly vibrant assemblage of tweaked-out digital tones, regional dance styles, and found sounds (including the noise of a Mac's volume being turned up). Standout track "Come Walk With Me" references girl-group bubblegum, Syrian electro-­dabke, and New Orleans bounce—it's got all the brain-searing euphoria of a rave, and it's as subtle as getting trampled by a herd of car alarms.

  • Lorde
  • Charles Howells

Peak minimalism

As pop fought the loudness wars and dance music's upper echelons adopted a more-is-more approach, electronic music's more subterranean composers sought refuge in a new kind of minimalism that rejects the philosophy's ascetic bent, using the latest technology to imbue stripped-bare compositions with sumptuous sonic textures. This year the trend filtered upward, making hits out of albums such as Lorde's Pure Heroine, Drake's Nothing Was the Same, and Pusha T's My Name Is My Name, all of which provide performers and listeners alike with plenty of space to luxuriate in between their sounds.


Kelela, Cut 4 Me (Fade to Mind)

Recently top-tier producers have had a lot of luck adapting the dark, bassy sounds of underground dance-music collectives to make hits for megastars such as Beyonce, Drake, and Rihanna. Two of those crews, Night Slugs and Fade to Mind, have responded by making their own run at crossover success backing Los Angeles singer Kelela, who has both club-scene credibility and pop-star magnetism; her debut album suggests she has the potential to get insurgent electronic music onto the charts without any middlemen.

Gesaffelstein - ELINA KECHICHEVA
  • Gesaffelstein
  • Elina Kechicheva

The industrial revival

In June, when Kanye dropped Yeezus, industrial music went from a quaintly bygone artifact of 90s alternative culture to a bleeding-­edge aesthetic seemingly overnight—the album combines the stark, combative drum programming of vintage Wax Trax! with a tonal palette lifted almost wholesale from Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. But Yeezus is just the tip of the industrial-revival iceberg—most of it is below the surface, where underground artists such as Gesaffelstein are putting a hard edge on vintage techno that sounds like it'd fit right in upstairs at Exit on bondage night.

  • The Haxan Cloak
  • Courtesy of Windish Agency

The Haxan Cloak, Excavation (Tri Angle)

The Internet has helped bridge the gap between the pop mainstream and the avant-garde, but not all influences from the latter make the leap, a la Kanye adopting such edgy electronic artists as Arca, Gesaffelstein, and Evian Christ as sidemen. London-based producer Bobby Krlic, aka the Haxan Cloak, creates abstract music with a focus on unsettling analog-synth textures, but there's something strangely accessible, almost catchy, in the repeat-worthy results.

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