Another full calendar year of music has come and gone, which prompts one of our favorite things to do, and that is to bring you a list of our favorite albums that came out this year, broken down by the genres we cover. 2021 was full of electronic artists breaking out of their shells, discovering new sounds, and delivering highly-anticipated projects (some of which were almost a decade in the making).
We’ve spent an unfathomable amount of time listening to new music this year, however there were some projects that we couldn’t help but come back to—and some we were simply obsessed with.
Without further ado, here are our top 20 electronic albums of the past year, in ascending order. Enjoy!
1. Fred again.. – Actual Life 1 / Actual Life 2
It seems like the Fred again.. craze has just begun and it looks like it’s not slowing down any time soon. In 2020, the BRIT-nominated producer worked with names like Jamie xx, FKA twigs, and Mall Grab, and by the end of 2021, he dropped the two critically acclaimed albums that have reached the top of this list.
Actual Life 1 & 2 boast simple yet extremely catchy house/garage beats and romantic repetitive hooks that we can effortlessly sing and dance along to, it’s just hard NOT to fall in love with Fred and his music. But what really sets these albums apart is their clever use of samples. Pulling everywhere from popular spoken word poetry or snippets of Fred’s life from videos he took himself, the samples inject a sense of humanity we’ve all been yearning for.
Standout tracks: Actual Life 1 “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing),” “Julia (Deep Diving),” & “Kyle (I Found You)” [Actual Life 2] “Billie (Loving Arms),” “Hannah (The Sun),” & “Faisal (Envelops Me)”
2. Ross from Friends – Tread
When we were first getting to know Ross from Friends, he specialized in a particular niche sound that caught the ear of many lofi enthusiasts, including us. It wasn’t until his 2021 sophomore album, Tread, that he broke through that niche and into a world of his own. With more complex drum rhythms, spine-tingling synth work, and boundless atmospheric wizardry, Ross from Friends put his ingenuity on full display here.
Tread came out in October, and we’re still rinsing it on a daily basis. Each track is so dynamic, that you discover something new with each listen. Ross manages to sustain a shimmering motif that permeates the entire tracklist. That magical element is what elevates Tread and keeps us coming back over and over.
Standout tracks: “The Daisy,” “XXX Olympiad,” & “Grub”
3. Porter Robinson – Nurture
Porter Robinson has some of the most die-hard fans in all of electronic music. With the pressure mounting of releasing another game-changing album such as 2014’s Worlds, Porter ended up pivoting his sound, favoring lighthearted electro-pop over his sound design-heavy previous project. The process, as told by Porter, was not easy, and through it all, ended up with the deeply personal, therapeutic, and sonically healing album, Nurture.
Porter Robinson already proved himself as a producer nearly a decade ago with Worlds, but Nurture solidified his status as one of the most treasured artists in the scene. In fact, the album transcends electronic music entirely at times, with beautiful instrumental moments like on “Wind Tempos.”
With Porter’s capabilities in full focus now, we can’t imagine where he’ll take us next.
Standout tracks: “Look at the Sky,” “Wind Tempos,” & “Something Comforting”
4. Flying Lotus – Yasuke
Yasuke is a game-changer in so many ways. The Flying Lotus project is not only an album but is also the score for the 6-episode anime on Netflix that he worked on in collaboration with LeSean Thomas, starring Lakeith Standfield. Anime has long been a part of hip-hop culture, and was long overdue for representation, and there was nobody better to create the sonic backdrop than the beat scene pioneer himself.
Yasuke keeps the essence of anime’s nature, but FlyLo adds so much swagger to the soundtrack, it’s able to stand alone, tall, as its own complete body of work.
Standout tracks: “Crust,” “Your Day Off,” “Black Gold”
5. DJ Seinfeld – Mirrors
While much of DJ Seinfeld’s earlier work can be described as hazy, and spacey, Mirrors sees his music come firmly into focus. Grainy textures are abandoned and replaced with vibrant, euphoric melodies that soar beyond our expectations.
DJ Seinfeld lets his melodic prowess leave the nest on Mirrors, however he keeps the dancefloor numbers within our reach via strict (yet agreeable) grooves and classic house tropes that lead us back down to Earth. These songs are the perfect soundtrack for a sunrise, whether your night is ending or your day is beginning.
Standout tracks: “U Already Know,” “Tell Me One More Time”, & “Someday”
6. Arca – KICK ii / KicK iii / kick iiii / kiCK iiiii
Caracas-born, Barcelona-based producer Arca is setting the standard for avant-garde, experimental electronic music. With credits as being a huge contributor on Kanye West’s Yeezus and Björk’s Vulnicura, Arca has already solidified her place as a legendary influential figure. In 2020, Arca remixed Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me,” which actually sampled songs that would later be released on her GRAMMY-nominated KICK i. But this year, she dropped the four consecutive follow-ups, the last being a complete surprise to fans. Arca has the ability to infuse eclectic industrial beats and her Venezuelan roots into her music in such a unique way, you’ll be mesmerized from start to finish as you listen through these four projects.
The pure creative energy on this project is something that doesn’t come along often, and we’re having an amazing time celebrating it.
Standout tracks: [Actual Life 1] “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing),” “Julia (Deep Diving),” & “Kyle (I Found You)” [Actual Life 2] “Billie (Loving Arms),” “Hannah (The Sun),” & “Faisal (Envelops Me)”
7. Boys Noize – +/-
Berlin-based Boys Noize continues to show why he’s one of the best producers of our generation with his +/- (pronounced “polarity”) album that was released back in September. While the German-Iraqi producer and label owner proves he can capture a wide audience by working with artists such as BIGBANG and The Black Eyed Peas, this album displays his incredible versatility.
This album has all the euphoric, drug-fueled energy of that 90s underground rave era, but also features extremely clear and punchy mixes. When you immerse yourself in this project, you won’t be sure if you’re being sent to the past or the future.
Standout tracks: “Affection,” “Girl Crush,” & “Polarity.”
8. Bicep – Isles
Since 2017, fans have not been able to get enough of Bicep’s widely acclaimed self-titled debut, which still makes the rounds today with classics like “Glue.” With the announcement of their sophomore project, Isles, Bicep had massive shoes to fill, but they did so in epic fashion, with yet another collection of intensely euphoric songs with thundering energy.
With kick drums that have the capacity to topple buildings and synths that could cut right through you, Isles is one hell of a listening experience that will evoke a physical response that you cannot ignore.
Standout tracks: “Atlas,” “Apricots,” & “X”
9. Flight Facilities – FOREVER
After winning over the hearts of the electronic community almost a decade ago, Flight Facilities waited seven long years to drop their next studio album, FOREVER. This project is the perfect encapsulation of quality over quantity. The (now) veteran Aussie duo delivered a string of irresistible dancey singles before sharing FOREVER in its entirety, which ultimately revealed an extremely versatile tracklist.
It doesn’t make a difference what type of genre they lean towards, the end result is always a moveable dancefloor number that you can’t help but wiggle to. On this project we see Flight Facilities dive into indie dance, techno, acid house, and more. Yet the project still delivers a cohesive listen.
Standout tracks: “The Ghost,” “Move,” & “What I Want”
10. Keys N Krates – Original Classic
Toronto trio Keys N Krates hadn’t released a full-length album since 2018 with Cura, but with A Beat Tape For Your Friends as a placeholder in between, we were okay for the time being. When we finally received Original Classic at the tail end of this year, every Keys N Kraving was satisfied.
With a well-balanced diet of worldly samples, soulful beats, radio bangers, and even a trap throwback, this album is a comprehensive body of work that encapsulates everything we love about every era of Keys N Krates.
Standout tracks: “Take It Off – Reprise,” “Chopped Soul,” & “Bollywood Bounce”
11. Motifv – Dilated Minds
12. Jacques Greene – ANTH01
13. RÜFÜS DU SOL – Surrender
14. 박혜진 Park Hye Jin – Before I Die
15. Polo & Pan – Cyclorama
16. Ben Böhmer – Begin Again
17. G-Space – The Path of Least Resistance
18. Louis Futon – Couchsurfing
19. GRiZ – Rainbow Brain