10 fine albums on eMusic in techno and house EDM

To accompany the label list and elevate music I often malign, here’s ten I find individually satisfying (not least for often being full-length albums for 99 cents).  Fair warning, I’m not a fan of the driving oonce:  

1. “Welcome to Entropy” - 444 (2017). This is my absolute favorite straight-up techno album from the last few months, with nothing much in the way of “instruments” so many people like to use to make “songs.”  Might well be Russian.  Definitely jarring and noisy, but darn if it doesn’t make me want to dance again.  Maybe if Einsturzende Neubauten lost its vocals and went fully EDM, it’d sound like this?  Bummer of a closing track, though I agree with its three-word message and probably sound like it to others in this forum.

2. “Arecibo” - Trippin Jaguar (2017).  As notable for the label’s album art in general as the music itself, this is the slower-tempo pick I made from Amselcom.  What’s yours?  99-er.

3.  “Rexer Flash” - Psychotic Beats (2012).  On the oddly named Log Lady label out of SF, these put more emphasis on the melodies and brief vocals than the beat, which is how I like it.  99-er.

4. “Bifid Cipher EP” - Rolf Ono (2018).  Quiet techno on four long tracks skirts being just downtempo.   Better for reading than for driving at night.  Not without hints of melody or distinctive sounds.  99-er. 

5. “Vorab and Tesoro” - Flash Flood Darlings (2016).  They’re from Korea and a different style but aren’t far behind #1.  The heavily treated vocals, mostly romantic and in English, are about the right balance with the music, IMO, which is hard to do in EDM.  Song structures can lean closer to synth-pop at times, which is fine by me.

6. “The Snake” - Brogan Bentley (2014).  Dark yet danceable house music with haunting vocals.  I’d compare it to what’d it’d be like to extend Polygon Window’s (Aphex Twin) classic 1992 track “If It Really Is Me” to a darker, more orchestral and danceable full-length album.  I’ve listened to this more than almost anything on eMusic.  Passionate and highly recommended.  Avoid his EP, despite the price.

7. “Unieqav” - Alva Noto (2018).  Another one for purists who don’t want anything organic like vocals or recognizable instruments intruding.  Alva Noto may be a poor man’s Byetone (I understand they’re related), but his label NOTON seems to be sticking around.  Three 5-star reviews of this one swayed me, but I’m not sure I agree or if it’s the best of what’s still a fairly large selection.  I did have higher hopes for the pairing with Ryuichi Sakamoto.

8. “Strikeout” - Hardfloor (1995).  If you’re a techno fan, it’s still possible to round out your collection of robotic Germans from the era when this music actually felt futuristic.  Harthouse, which along with Eye Q, Planet Earth, and other variations led by Sven Väth went out of business long ago, apparently withheld the excellent full-length “Home Run” but maintains a large selection old-school techno classics from the likes of Hardfloor that ruled the dancefloors of the 1990s, at least in my imagination.  One full-length by Bondzio & Zenker also remains under their alias Dadamnphreaknoizephunk, 2009’s “The Cheerleaders Are Smilin' at You,” but I think it’s their weakest album. 

9. “Heart Failure” - Mydwem (2015) barely fits, preferring to slice up and play with house music cliches rather than playing into them, but I really like it.  I’m surprised nobody has commented on this one.  This and #6 are my favorites on this list, and their similarities are readily apparent.

10. “Best of” - Phonique (2014).  Why not end with a big name that also emphasizes the main draw of tech house on eMusic:  an album that’s two hours and fifteen minutes long.

I would not stake whatever reputation I have on these making believers out of people who don’t like this kind of music.  The rock list previously was better and more interesting overall, I think.

There should be no general electronica, downtempo, IDM, drum & bass/jungle, dub, dubstep, trance, and definitely ambient on this list.  


  • Alva Noto may be a poor man’s Byetone

    I would invert that judgement on a whole range of counts (catalog, range, reputation, influence, as well as the music itself).

    I agree that Unieqav is very good; I think I like Univrs even more among his more techno recordings.  Xerrox 2 is maybe my favorite overall, but that one’s not techno.

  • Indeed, maybe I just need to listen to another album or two, but I loved both I got from Byetone, whereas Unieqav might not get to five spins (there I go doing that play # standard I claim to reject).  I'll sample Univrs and Xerrox 2.
  • Byetone has more immediately visceral oomph - I like Plastic Star a lot. And Alva Noto is certainly a very specific flavor - much more clinical, cerebral, austere, abstract. Even when he is veering closer to dance music I think it still seems more of an intellectual exercise, like an acoustic scientist studying dance music. But I like that, and overall I think Noto is more significant. I find his stuff fascinating, but I have good evidence from within my own household that it does not appeal to everyone.
  • Delighted to consider this comparison deeply...I don't think we're going to make a lot of friends or please our family members with either of them.  Since we agree that techno, or at least austere electronic music like these both loses something with mediocrity, I should say that I just haven't found the greatness in an AN album yet, and until I do, a larger output is a case of more just being more, whereas "Death of a Typographer" was one of the first eMusic albums I thought was great ten years ago after taking a shot in the dark.  The appeal of both it and "Symeta" is a very specific situation when I want something pure to help focus on something diabolical, like planning a solo bank heist.  Definitely solo; these are not tunes for collaboration.  Anyway, not a situation that comes up terribly much, and I do worry that listening to either album too often will lose the "goosebump" effect, so having only a couple albums I listen to maybe once a year is all I need in that case.  I also feel like Bytone's "oomph" factor, which you put very nicely, lies in being freer to incorporate noise as both a climax and an aural palette cleanser to move from track to track.  What I appreciate most about Hardfloor especially among dancey techno, despite predictability, is that songs build to a layered highpoint, which I think both Byetone albums do as a whole.  I just don't get the same feeling of a trajectory on Unieqav, but I can definitely see what you're saying as treating every track clinically like a sonic experiment.  I just listened again and would say that the two albums I've heard of AN could be fine reading music, at the risk of sounding overly functionalist and situational like there's nothing inherently appealing about it, but I put most non-intrusive instrumental music of all styles in that category, making for a lot of competition for play time.  Like I said, I'll try another you suggest eventually.  Thanks for the engagement, definitely unusual.
  • That’s a good description of the difference - I don’t think the AN albums (or even usually tracks) have that sense of trajectory to a crescendo. It all comes down I think to whether you respond to his aesthetic of coldly meticulous sound design and pointillist complexity. There is something in me that responds to that. For example, I find this track from the For 2 album quite thrilling in its restraint, tension, and exactitude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SGFdReVDGo  It’s leagues away from flailing sweaty limbs (I suppose one might sway contemplatively to it) - its story is all about withholding release and stretching minimal resources like steel wires taut across a canvas. It’s like dance music for contemplative android monks in an underground data center. That’s what I hope for in an AN techno album, to one degree or another. On the Uni series the monks get to move around more, but the time signatures can still require math degrees.
    Byetone neighbors this territory but is happier to let things bang propulsively. I only listen to a few artists in this area, but I mentally have Byetone and Kangding Ray (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lI1wUhg1J0)  clustered at one end of a spectrum, with Alva Noto and (further out into abstraction) Frank Bretschneider at the other (my favorite track is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj1Nhzh90kk). (Maybe the next station after that is Ryoji Ikeda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5hhFMSAuf4 ) . Byetone and KR sound more to me like they were made by people having fun. I imagine AN and FB and RI more with a lab coat and a microscope, possibly on a space station. 
    Of course all five would be at the far end of a regular spectrum :-).
    Thanks also - it’s nice to discuss specific music - we don’t do that enough, even around here.
  • Funny you refer to AN/Byetone as being on a spectrum GP - I was going to use the same phrase to post that I'd put Senking somewhere between the two on the visceral>intellectual/academic scale.

    I have to say I generally prefer Byetone to AN, but that's possibly as much down to the fact I tend to listen on-the-move more than at home so it suits the environment better.
    I've never quite 'got' the FB, RI or KR releases I've heard for some reason, but would add the Severance album Hidden Ceilings into the mix as being on the same spectrum, probably up-close to Senking.

    Omnifoo - I don't see much else of interest to me on your list though (great that you're trying though!). Particulary can't see a path from Polygon Window to the Brogan Bentley release, which is more poor pseudo-dubstep to my ears than techno/house...sorry!

  • edited October 12
    Right, funny that it had not occurred to me to put Senking on that same scale. So much more murky bass. And I have the Severance album in quite a difference mental filing cabinet, along with Deadbeat (especially earlier Deadbeat. Hidden Ceilings seems like a more abstract Wild Life Documentaries.) I think I’d toss Senking in there too. But that’s just how they cluster in my head - I think maybe it’s about primarily punctilious rhythm versus primarily swashes of texture. Hmmm.
  • @Dark_Magus In defense of the list, it’s a product of returning from the trenches of endless, samey EDM in the confines of eMusic’s remainders and needing examples that fit the category while being at least somewhat distinctive.  I’d rather a reaction to electronica be disgust than “meh,” and it seems that’s what happened.  To be clear, I’m aware that there are plenty of unscrupulous RIYLs dropping big names to draw attention to obscure and ultimately low quality music, which was not my intent with the Polygon Window comparison (and again, just that one particular track from him…hauntingly indistinct vocals, basic melodies, and a somber tone…indeed very different from and much less diverse than “Surfing on Sinewaves” as a whole).  If the comparison is wholly inept, I’ll retract it if anyone else strongly disagrees.  In any case, I won’t dwell too much further on something you didn’t like (if you listened to the whole album rather than just sampling, I apologize).  Just want to concur that while he does some quasi-dubstep stuff with the baselines on a few tracks, which is indeed a large part of the appeal to me, I’d be much less comfortable calling it a dubstep album than a house album, in that the beat is in no way chopped up or anything other than standard EDM.  It’s entirely possible I don’t know what house music is and is not, other than the truly crappy stuff on the bottom half of the 300+ labels that are still on eMusic.  Please clue me into any GOOD pseudo dubstep, as apparently I have a weakness for it.

    I wouldn’t expect that list, with AN as an experimental outlier that’s a stretch for dancing or techno categorization, to be much interest to folks who prefer serious and otherwise seriously experimental electronic music rather than stuff that just plays with EDM conventions but still has a beat to get the limbs good and sweaty.  Previously available experimental electronica on eMusic would make for a nice list to post on the “old eMusic” discoveries thread, but excluding my actual preference for IDM, I don’t know if there’s enough notable on eMusic to compile a list of ten.  I appreciate hearing from serious listeners like you both here, as I don’t know any personally.

  • @Germanprof ; I like all that you linked (the Frank Bretschneider one comes up unavailable; had to look for other stuff of his, nice to know eMusic doesn’t have the unavailability market cornered), and your descriptions help a lot with deeper appreciation and things to ponder while listening.  I do get the feeling I’d enjoy similarly if I just let Youtube autoplay infinitely, though, and for this more abstract style it’s hard for me to identify, let alone state a rule to explain, what I do and don’t like of it (I try hard to avoid calling anything “good” or “bad”).  For other music it’s a lot easier to say something “sucks” for a very specific reason, but I can’t articulate what would make me strongly prefer one AN track over another.  Time signatures don’t register for me, and I’m not going to get a math degree any time soon, so maybe that’s my listening deficiency.  Until I can put preferences to words, AN and his ilk will probably stay in the 3 to 4-star liking range rather than Byetone’s, as I’ll turn off most EDM reflexively.  I agree that “Garment” is all that you say, my new favorite track, and it reminded me of Tri Repetae-era Autechre, but that’s too easy a reference.    

    I wonder if it’s unreasonable to expect the human touch to win out over autoplay even in these extreme examples of unfeeling musicians in labcoats who’d have a much harder time proving they’re not robots themselves than in Asimov’s Foundation series.  You’ve definitely given a lot to dive into here when feeling contemplative, and I absolutely trust your recommendations.  

  • edited October 14
    @omnifoo re FB it must be a region thing, it still plays for me. The track was ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’ from the album Rhythm.

    oh, and I just remembered that I wrote a review of Univrs with some more background discussion: http://musicisgood.org/2011/11/alva-notos-univrs-almost-human/ It may get at why despite the lab coats images I am not sure “unfeeling” is the right word. I think he is quite passionate about exactitude :-).
  • Multimedia, in-depth music reviews like that are what we stand to lose if streaming devalues ownership, I think.  If only more people could care about music half as much as that piece, the world would be a much better place.  Very nice writing, informative, and really helps to appreciate what I never would've encountered otherwise. A passion for precision can hardly be a fault, indeed.
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