Satellite Era - Top 20 Electronic Albums of 2020
To properly welcome 2021, we are revisiting some of our favorite albums of 2020 to highlight what made this past year a brilliant one for electronic music.
We are very excited to finally announce our 20 favorite electronic albums of 2020. Selected from over 130 full-length releases, we aim to shine light on what helped us get through this past year and hope to introduce some new artists and sounds to you.
DISCLAIMER: music is entirely subjective. We are not claiming to be experts - we simply love electronic music and want to share what we feel should be highlighted. We are also aware that some media outlets are given a hard time for using a numbered ranking format when creating year-end lists, which is entirely understandable. No album should be considered "better" than the one above it - we just feel that it helps us navigate through our personal tastes and how they will eventually evolve over the years. It also gives readers a chance to see what is influencing us and our potential direction for the future. Enjoy!
20. Patricia - Maxyboy
Released on June 26, 2020
Just three years after making it onto Spectral Sound, the sister label of legendary imprint Ghostly International specifically made for moody club music, Patricia made his debut on the label's main roster for what turned out to be his best, most matured work yet. His last album Several Shades Of The Same Color took the standard "lo-fi house" aesthetic and broken it down into something entirely unique - warm yet somewhat daunting soundscapes and intoxicating drum work that keep listeners moving. He carries over these traits onto his newest creation, this time with a more full sound and apparent club music influence. Everything from high-energy techno and electro can be heard alongside ambient and electronica in the album's 10 tracks, effortlessly woven together through a shared idea from beginning to end.
19. Sophia Loizou - Untold
Released on September 25, 2020
Multi-faceted artist Sophia Loizou returned to the Fabric-owned imprint Houndstooth with Untold, her third full-length record and easily her best work yet. Though the album has a consistent ambient theme, signs of a distant club submerged in the cover art's ocean occur when random breakbeats appear, keeping the listener on their toes. She does a wonderful job at creating a contrast between cinematic ambiance and occasional rhythm. As a creator, Loizou is a gifted in multiple mediums - she is an author of speculative fiction and gives lectures on music production, all while she works on her PhD at the University of London. Her brilliance in many disciplines can surely be heard throughout this project - a book she wrote titled Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum accompanied the release plus a 30-minute "speculative sonic landscape in which sounds from living systems, field recordings from human, animal and technological origins meet - producing wild and unpredictable results."
18. Actress - Karma & Desire
Released on October 23, 2020
After a long-awaited year since its initial announcement and strong yet teasing prequel released back in July, British producer Actress revisited our radar in the autumn with his seventh studio album Karma & Desire - this time he fused his recent experimentation in ambient music with past club roots. The byproduct is an album unafraid to be as emotional as it is energetic and groovy. It moves back and forth between warm-bodied ambiance and club tracks; nearly every drum-less cut is followed up with a rhythmic track ready to eventually attack the dancefloor. The sonic diversity of this record makes Ninja Tune a perfect home for its release and his production flexibility has been one of the most important qualities of his acclaimed work over the last decade and beyond.
17. Ash Koosha - HALLUCiNATO
Released on December 10, 2020
Known for meddling with artificial intelligence and developing new methods to create some of the most unique music we have heard in recent time, Iranian artist Ash Koosha made it back onto our queue with HALLUCiNATO. Though coined as a self-released mixtape, this collection of tracks feels like his most cohesive work since 2018 when he released two of his best albums: Aktual and Return 0. Considering his processes always produce an experimental sculpture of grouped sound, it is hard to identify any specific influences he may have - though there are some remnants of Persian rhythms fused with uneasy ambient music and hyperpop. As technology continues to evolve, it will be very exciting to see how he grows with it and where he will takes his music altogether.
16. dgoHn - Undesignated Proximate
(Love Love Records)
Released on April 17, 2020
One of jungle's most on-demand producers of the recent years has to be John Cunnane, best known as dgoHn. He released his sophomore album Undesignated Proximate back in April on UK-based imprint Love Love Records, showcasing his masterful drum processing and breakbeat arrangement. The record has a clear jazz inspiration heard throughout and contrasts nicely with his surreal drum work. Most tracks begin with eerie pads, setting the stage for something emotive. They eventually get engulfed in breaks and bring the listener back to the album's main goal of delivering jungle with character. Most successful electronic musicians have their own distinct sound - Cunnane's music can be identified solely by the cleanliness of his break processing. It is worth noting that being able to tell that apart a dgoHn track only by the drums is something extremely rare.
15. Huerta - Junipero
Released on February 7, 2020
Though Berlin-based producer Huerta released his debut album almost a full calendar year ago, it still feels like something different can be discovered each listen-through. Junipero landed on Voyage Recordings and extended his established club traits onto a more ambient palette. Even though he took a softer approach, his deep house and dub techno influences are still entirely persistent throughout the record. Warm pads complement glassy percussions, creating an image of a tropical biome - considering he is originally from California, the sandy beach vibes are quite suitable. Junipero begins slowly in ambient form but does pick up in energy and eventually becomes the dancefloor-esque project one would expect from Huerta.
14. Grischa Lichtenberger - KAMILHAN; il y a péril en la demeure (Raster)
Released on November 6th, 2020
Berlin-based Grischa Lichtenberger continued his high output of unique, broken rhythms with his newest album KAMILHAN; il y a péril en la demeure on the German powerhouse label Raster. The release was the conclusion of a five-part work cycle that started in 2015 and follows his 2019 project re: phgrp. On his final edition of the series, he continues his interpretation of free jazz by delivering 14 avant-garde tracks, each with their own ambiance and samples from an aged era of instrumental music. His high-fidelity textures compared to slightly daunting vocals derived from old records create a distinct sound in his composition. Aside from this regularly used process, he is also recognized for his ability to create abstract, broken beats - heavy drum work in odd time signatures. The album is best described by Lichtenberger as "crooked ballads. They are songs - intentionally tying themselves to a symbolic repetition of classical pop-song structures."
13. Photay - Waking Hours
Released on June 12, 2020
Although Waking Hours was only Evan Shornstein's second record as Photay, he has already taken his music off the course to create something quite indescribable. His roots travel as far as West Africa where he learned polyrhythmic percussion techniques on a trip. His flagship abilities as a drummer are heard through his discography as most tracks feel structured around an attentive groove that drives the rest of the production. His 2017 debut studio album Onism created a strong foundation for his signature sound: warm, analog synths blended with prevalent drum work in a mainly four-by-four structure. Waking Hours seamlessly connected each song to ideas found in the first few minutes, all while building on different elements individually. His new record found a home on Mexican Summer, a Brooklyn-based label known to push experimentation in the indie electronic realm. This album was undoubtedly our soundtrack to the summer of 2020.
12. Two Fingers - Fight! Fight! Fight!
Released on May 15, 2020
After a hiatus lasting most of the 2010s, Amon Tobin returned in 2019 with two incredible albums and plenty of singles surrounding them. Having conducted multiple successful music projects over the years, his Two Fingers alias has always existed as a place to express a more dancefloor-oriented side of his abilities. Fight! Fight! Fight! did exactly that, celebrating rhythm and movement, fused together with his distinct sound. A clear nod to instrumental hip-hop and LA beat culture, its arrival aligns well with the pinnacle of modern bass music and half-time drum & bass. The album hosts collaborations with some of the underground's most decorated artists, creating a much-needed space for the genre to showcase its capabilities. With Tobin's new independent label Nomark Records up and running, expect plenty of future releases from each of his triumphant projects.
11. Rian Treanor - File Under UK Metaplasm (Planet Mu)
Released on October 2, 2020
Only a year after releasing his powerful debut full-length project, Rian Treanor returned to the legendary Planet Mu label to deliver a standout sophomore album full of club-ready tracks, except the setting of this dancefloor lies beneath the foreground of a rundown, futuristic venue. Every song sits on the same 90/180 BPM tempo and feels thematically similar but Treanor does a stellar job at providing different results through each track. Though its total length of just under 40 minutes seems like it finishes way too soon, it does feel like he accomplished all he wanted to do in that timeframe: create a unique space where jungle, dancehall, and footwork is fused with sharp-edged synths and brain-tickling drum arrangements - we have also coined the term "post-juke" specifically for this record.
10. Luke Vibert - Luke Vibert presents Amen Andrews (Hypercolour Records)
Released on May 29, 2020
One of the many surprises that 2020 provided was British musician Luke Vibert reviving his old alias Amen Andrews. Based off his passion for the infamous Amen break, this alias is all about taking the standard jungle formula and breaking it apart to fit the Vibert narrative - this includes bathing tracks with rare samples and a rattling low-end presence. His second full-length project as Amen Andrews was released on London-based label Hypercolour Records just before the summer and provided us track-after-track of breakbeat-enthusiast joy. The album came as a three-part series where Vibert ventured into acid-filled rave music and "rave hop." which was something in between rave music and instrumental hip-hop. Our favorite of the three was obviously the Amen Andrews release since we live and breathe jungle as a collective.
9. Kiln - Astral Welder
Released on November 20, 2020
Neighboring our headquarters in Chicago is Michigan-based trio KILN, known for their distinct take of fusing guitar with golden-age electronica. Formed in 1993, the group has forged an impressive and sometimes overlooked discography compared to other names from that time. Seven years after their last album, they returned to Ghostly International with Astral Welder, a new record full of nostalgia-inducing beats. Their attention to detail can be heard among every instrument and field recording, continuing their renowned ways of ushering emotion through sound, while progressing as musicians in other aspects. With their careers nearing the 30-year mark, the group still found a way to deliver something as modern as 2020 could be, all while staying entirely true to their genuine sound.
8. Long Arm - Silent Opera
Released on January 31, 2020
One of the first standout albums of 2020 was Silent Opera by Russian producer Long Arm. He is a well-known regular on the Berlin-based label Project Mooncircle and has wielded an entirely original take on trip-hop over the years. From the layering of live instruments that feel like a modern symphony, to the rustic vocal samples, Long Arm has perfected his form of expression and Silent Opera should be considered his best work yet. From start to finish, the album's purpose is portrayed sonically and hinted on the cover. It feels organic and blended with nature - it even samples a grim warning of environmental destruction in its last track. Overall, the record's theme extends further than this list and feels more important than the music itself. “Silent Opera is an attempt to describe the states of the human soul. The state of rising and fall, of despair and hope, of humility and expectation of a miracle. The search for peace inside against the background of flowering life around and elusive time."
7. Rob Clouth - Zero Point
Released on March 12, 2020
Multi-disciplinary artist Rob Clouth finally released his highly-anticipated debut album Zero Point on Mesh - the project turned out to be very much worth the wait. Honing skills in coding and software development, Clouth created his own methods to make the project one of its own. Considering that these processes are unattainable to the rest of us, Zero Point is merely one tool of his imagination. Nearly every listen-through has something new to offer - unpredictable elements blended with odd time signatures make it feel like a chaotic puzzle. The record goes back and forth between cinematic ambiance and experimental, almost club-like rhythms. "Exploiting his skills as a software developer, Clouth has created a suite of tools that tap into data from the ANU Quantum Random Number Server (QRNS), an online service that publishes real-time measurements from the zero-point energy field. Zero Point is a love letter to noise, written with data sampled from the core of the universe."
6. John Frusciante - Maya
Released on October 23, 2020
One of the biggest surprises last year came from Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. Adding another accolade to his storybook career, he ditched his old acid house-based Trickfinger alias to release the first electronic album under his real name. Titled Maya, the record is named after his cat who recently passed away - he mourned the loss by creating an emotional yet fun take on the 90s warehouse rave music that shaped him as an artist. His longtime friend and collaborator Venetian Snares welcomed him onto his Timesig imprint, a sublabel from none other than Planet Mu. The album is a clear nod to the glory days of dusty jungle and drill 'n' bass with distinct characteristics that serve as a time capsule of the label's early releases. Frusciante also does an incredible job at sampling other songs from that area, subtly adding to the record's theme. Perhaps these sounds aged like fine wine, or maybe this was the mainstream revival that this era needed.
5. Wagon Christ - Recepticon
(People Of Rhythm)
Released on October 24, 2020
The man of many aliases Luke Vibert made it back onto our 2020 list with Recepticon, the seventh studio album of his beloved Wagon Christ project. Easily his most popular alias of the nine known to the public, it was refreshing to hear that he picked up immediately where he left off with his last album being released in 2011. Wagon Christ has always been about celebrating the wonders of trip-hop, England's idiosyncratic take on instrumental hip-hop beginning in the mid-90s. The aesthetic seems to have aged well as Reception made it onto People of Rhythm Records and delivered the same qualities of an authentic trip-hop record, yet with refinements in his production to complement the new decade. Vibert holds the throne at one of the best samplers in electronic music - what better place to flex that than on a Wagon Christ record?
4. Nazar - Guerrilla
Released on March 13, 2020
Angolan producer Nazar released his debut album Guerrilla last March on Hyperdub and it took us completely by surprise. Inspired by the war-ridden country he traces his lineage back to, the record feels entirely raw, rough around the edges yet pristine in the low-end department, and stays true to the African roots he wields. More specifically, he is influenced by the rhythms of kuduro, a genre based in Angola that has inspired lots of other music today. Its characteristics make these tracks suitable for the dancefloor - uptempo, energetic, and soaked in percussive elements. While many of these tracks feel ready to return to the club, the emotional value of this record is what sets it apart. He includes samples of bullet shells clinking, helicopters soaring across a smoky horizon, and eerie vocals that help narrate the story. Overall, there is a distinct feeling by the end - empathizing with what his people have experienced, yet feeling hopeful knowing that everything will eventually heal and potentially deliver beautiful art like this record. Though we technically enjoyed some projects a bit more than Guerrilla in other aspects, we can safely say that this was the most unique electronic album of 2020 and even recent years - we are thoroughly excited to see where Nazar takes his music in the future.
3. Zenker Brothers - Cosmic Transmission
Released on October 15, 2020
The originators of one of our favorite musical movements are none other than Marco and Dario of the Zenker Brothers. The Munich-based sibling duo have commanded the renowned Ilian Tape sound since its inception in 2007 - within those 13 years, the brothers have brought in household club music names to release some of our favorite music of all time. That is not an exaggeration; it is fun to consider if the duo could have somehow predicted how impactful their label would be to electronic music without somehow looking into the future. Cosmic Transmission is the seventh full-length album released on Ilian Tape and ingeniously captures the essence of the label in its entirety. From the beginning of the record, we are met with tranquil and almost nostalgic emotions - this carries over through nearly an hour of a battle between dancefloor cuts and ethereal beats. Where most of the label specializes in clean and pristine sounds, the Zenkers have delivered a sophomore album that feels more raw and organically made. The attention to detail within their production is nearly astounding; they are also unafraid to touch upon various tempos, so long that it moves the listener physically and emotionally.
2. The Fear Ratio - They Can't Be Saved
Released on March 20, 2020
Formed in 2011 yet encompassing decades of electronic music excellence, James Ruskin and Mark Broom of The Fear Ratio returned to the iconic electronica imprint Skam Records for their third full-length project together. They Can't Be Saved is not only their best work thus far, but one of Skam's greatest releases in their 30-year lifespan. This says a lot about the album considering that yesteryear's electronic music heavyweights like Bola and Gescom have made their entire careers on the label. They Can't Be Saved may be an ode to the foundations of what made our beloved music what it is today, but it can also be considered as a complete overhaul to vintage electronica. Bringing together the past in a much higher fidelity, The Fear Ratio tackle the underground and turn it into their own canvas, mirroring the graffiti in the cover art. They touch on everything old and new: trip-hop, dubstep, braindance, electronica, and beyond. The importance of this album will be determined by the conjunction of two worlds: electronic music's vibrant past and the promise of tomorrow's artists drawing inspiration from an overlooked era.
1. Andrea - Ritorno (Ilian Tape)
Released on April 9, 2020
One of Germany's greatest musical exports over the last decade has to be Ilian Tape, to the point where two out of three of our top albums from this year reside on this label. They boast a diverse crew of artists that force listeners to rethink how they perceive modern club music; techno and breakbeat meet lush ambient soundscapes and raw emotion simply unheard anywhere else on this planet. By now, it should be apparent we have a soft-spot for the crew, and maybe we are a bit biased but it is hard not to be when what they bring to the table resonates with us entirely. A perfect middle ground between dancefloor anthems and thought-provoking, in-home listening music has finally been found, which can be heard in Ritorno, the debut album of Italian producer Andrea. Rather than attempting to repurpose the crew's sound like others have done, he doubled down on what they are known for and delivered an hour's worth of the Ilian Tape formula at its very best. Aside from the standard club tracks he is known for, Andrea also dove into uncharted waters of ambient, trip-hop, dubstep, and even a dub-influenced cut. The diversity of sound is a staple to the crew's ways of staying relevant. Three years later and Compro by Skee Mask is still often brought up in our daily music conversations - the longevity factor is what will keep us playing and sharing these albums for years to come. Sitting at the very top of the list of our favorite albums from last year, Andrea's Ritorno is one of Ilian Tape's best releases in their fabled history.
Cult 48 - Catalog 1 (Self-Released) [Bandcamp]
EVA808 - Sultry Venom (Innamind Recordings) [Bandcamp]
Fiesta Soundsystem - Rites of Passage (Shall Not Fade) [Bandcamp]
Hyph11E - Aperture (SVBKVLT) [Bandcamp]
Machinedrum - A View Of U (Ninja Tune) [Bandcamp]
Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas (Other People) [Bandcamp]
Wanderwelle - A State of Decreptitude (A Strangely Isolated Place) [Bandcamp]
2020 was challenging for all of us and a year that we will never forget. With much hardship came an abundance of amazing art that made some circumstances better at times. It was also the year that we finally launched Satellite Era and thankfully, we were surrounded by these incredible albums to keep us inspired. We hope 2021 is good to you and we will continue to cover all things that make us move.
Stay up to date with Satellite Era through this link - more year-end content is on the way.