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The 10 Best Electronic Albums of 2020

If the journey’s half the fun, then these 10 albums are certainly worth the trip.

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The Avalanches
Photo: Grant Spanier

Neon Jungle

CloZee, Neon Jungle

CloZee, neé Chloé Herry, is a Toulouse-based DJ whose sound could be described as New Age-y, with its invocations of vaguely indigenous rituals in vocal samples and Asian-influenced classical guitar. But as Neon Jungle proves, nearly all of Herry’s choices feel earned; the producer is adept at merging disparate sources into warm, lovingly layered dance tracks that boast a delectable sonic density. Songs like “Air” and “Heya” have a downtempo jaunt, with sputtering, tactile drums and spiraling synth patterns, sometimes trailed by the sounds of gurgling water. The idea of a jungle sound is borne out by the fact that every element on the album seems as if it’s inhaling and exhaling. The most transcendent moments can be found on the pop anthem “Us” and the brassy “Winter Is Coming,” with their flashes of dubstep and big, buzzing basslines, but none of it ever feels cheap. CloZee is first and foremost a proprietor of funky grooves, and Neon Jungle is a testament to her ability to get you moving with both a dramatic flair and a polished cool. Lyons-Burt



Energy

Disclosure, Energy

The cover art of Disclosure’s Energy depicts the electronic music duo’s signature masked silhouette embedded in a unified landmass that’s beginning to break apart. The album itself creates a diasporic sound that foregrounds the origins of a plethora of musical genres—and, by extension, the first record of human life. Collaborating with a guest list composed entirely of artists of color—most of them Black, two from Cameroon and Mali—and pulling from the long stylistic history of hip-hop, R&B, and West African pop-rock, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence apply their distinct brand of house music to these myriad styles, syncing everything up into a combustible, richly layered party record. Lyons-Burt



Inner Song

Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song

Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens creates featherweight soundscapes whose effect, when they finally give way to a percussive breakdown or a culminating eruption of some kind, is all the more impactful. Through circuitous beats and sparse vocals, Inner Song traces a path to satisfaction with being alone (“Love is not enough,” she decides at one point), and with Owens’s personal growth paradoxically ending up back at a place of finding delight in companionship (“It feels so good to be alone…with you”). The songs shape-shift genres, Owens’s arrangements weaving between techno and house with a breezy agility, imprinting each style with her quiet, understated needling. On standout “Melt!,” she programs the hollowed-out synths to ascend and then cascade, trickling down again and again, evoking processes of breakdown and renewal. Lyons-Burt



The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens, The Ascension

It was only a matter of time before the musical trickster in Sufjan Stevens returned after the stripped-down, soul-baring Carrie & Lowell. But while it may be overstuffed with ideas, The Ascension is far from the old precious orchestral ornamentation of Illinois. Stevens creates massive, complex soundscapes from electronic scraps of sound here—call it his digital orchestra. He isn’t interested in being clever (with the possible exception of the on-the-nose, Rx name-dropping “Ativan”), instead letting these sprawling tracks reflect simple emotions (the detachment of “Video Game,” the morose come-ons of “Sugar”) or pointed political commentary (the epic “America”). As usual, Christianity is never far from his mind (the title track is a kind of personal hymn), but Stevens isn’t trying to proselytize—he wants to take us deeper than ever into his own spiritual journey. Paul Schrodt



Year Zero

Tchami, Year Zero

Year Zero is a full hour of immersion into beatsmith Tchami’s aesthetic, a clean, shimmering brand of house music some have dubbed “future house.” What’s interesting is how Tchami navigates and brings to life new sounds within and around the tight, 4/4 strictures of the genre: Several songs, such as “Buenos Aires” and “Shine On” sound like we’re underwater or the beat has been pickled. Elsewhere, on “Toxic Love” and “Praise,” he subverts the driving percussion with crisp, interlocking hi-hats and wobbling bass notes. It’s all extremely kinetic but also pleasingly serene due to Tchami’s control of mood; his trick is finding spontaneity in a kind of orderliness. Lyons-Burt

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