The end of another year, and exhaustion hangs heavy like a fog. We move through virus variants and frightening weather. We reckon with attention hijacking and institutional decay. This doesn’t feel like the future we were promised thirty years ago when Warp released the first installment of its Artificial Intelligence series, back when electronic music eagerly awaited the arrival of a new millennium. Drawing upon the futurism of Kraftwerk, Cybotron, and Derrick May, the promise of better living through technology seeped through the discography of the 1990s: Surfing on Sine Waves. Bytes. Electro-Soma. Dimension Intrusion. And now, looking at my favorite records this year, it strikes me that many of these artists are dismantling and rewiring these templates to better suit our times. Instead of celebrating technology, they’re leaning upon the language of faith.

Black Swan – Repetition Hymns

Past Inside the Present | Bandcamp

Lamentations for a decaying future. Layers of grit and grain gradually congeal before blooming into tones that approach something that sounds like grace.

Topdown Dialectic – Vol. 3

Peak Oil | Bandcamp

Electronic contrails and drum machine residue. These blurred transmissions from an unknown station conjure the lowlight hiss and mystery of a half-remembered Chain Reaction record from twenty-five years ago. This third installment is the most spectral of the series on Peak Oil. Be sure to check out their more structured releases for the Aught label.

Christina Chatfield – Sutro

Mysteries of the Deep | Bandcamp

Sleek midnight ambiance fused with a Drexciyan edge. Tracks like “Concatenate II” begin with fragile drift before gathering the ballast of low frequencies and arpeggiated synths that reconfigure and refine the sensibilities of optimistic mid-1990s electronics into a darker and savvier score for the 21st century.

Akira Rabelais – À la Recherche du Temps Perdu

Argeïphontes | Bandcamp

A four-hour epic that melds reverb, opera, and detached strings into the sound of a distant century bleeding through the walls. The album begins with a minute of silence save for the faint sound of a ticking clock before the music of La Belle Époque unfurls through a scrim of crackle, echo, and time.

Not Waving & Romance – Eyes of Fate / Restoration of Bliss

Boomkat Editions | Bandcamp

Melodramatic loops and choral sludge of the highest order. Sometimes these tracks drift and fade midway, only to return in more menacing form. See also Romance’s A Kiss Is Just a Kiss and You Must Remember This for more smudged slow-motion elegance.

Microcorps – Xmit

Alter | Bandcamp

Alien hymns varnished with a jet black gloss. These eight tracks resurrect the cyberpunk spirit of mid-1980s Transmat and Cybotron for a new century, collapsing time and space until I’m in the passenger seat of Model 500’s night drive through Babylon back in ’83: The lights of passing vehicles reflected in her mirrored sunglasses. She looks at her watch, and I can see the liquid crystal display reflected dancing where her eyes should be.

Stephen Baker – After the End

Bandcamp

Perhaps I’m biased, but Baker’s original score for After the End has become one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. After spending three months listening to this sci-fi lamentation reverberate across the stone walls of a chapel, it continues to reveal new textures and connections between the liturgical and the Blade Running.

Suss – Night Suite

Northern Spy Records | Bandcamp

Sometimes synchronicity strikes hard. This record was released on October 22, a day I’ll remember because it was C’s birthday and we were driving through the Mojave after passing through Kingman and Needles. And this record captures the gestalt of the desert as I’d like to imagine it: wide open and dazzling but edged with mystery and an eerie twang.

Muqata’a – Kamil Manqus كَامِل مَنْقوص

Hundebiss | Bandcamp

Broadcasting from Palestine, Muqata’a fuses classic Arabic songs with nearly every facet of electronic music, dicing up the sensibilities of DJ Shadow, techno, and even the occasional jungle break. But here, these styles are artifacts, grist for the mill of a much larger project that sounds like the stress and shred of thinking these days. This is my soundtrack for running and imagining what the future might sound like.

Wasted Cathedral – I’m Gonna Love You ‘Til the End of Time

Cardinal Fuzz | Bandcamp

A durable collection of hazy and occasionally frost-bitten loops from Saskatchewan that range from chugging drones to tranquilized dub to blissed-out reverb.

Minced Oath – Superstrate

Countersunk | Bandcamp

Elite-level shimmer and hum. This record operates in a state of suspension, echoing the sensation of an endless afternoon with dust hanging in shafts of sunlight. But these sounds never settle; they morph and unfurl new patterns. This is music for speculation, a future balm.

Pye Corner Audio – Entangled Routes

Ghost Box | Boomkat

A masterful synthesizer workout that swings between the baroque and the zen, this is propulsive late-night highway music for speed racing and imagining better horizons.

See also: 2020 Rotation and 2019 Rotation and 2018 Rotation.

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