Sophie 'Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides' (Transgressive)
SOPHIE's career and influence fully spans the decade – at its beginning, she was a mysterious producer whose elastic, bombastic takes on pop music were often pigeonholed as a trend of the moment. But the carbonated optimism of ‘Bipp’ and the playful kink of ‘Hard’ turned out to be enticing precursors for what was to come, not only within the realms of alternative electronic music but on the Top 40 charts as well. As someone new to electronic music at the time, I rinsed ‘Lemonade’ on my college radio show when it came out, completely entranced by the possibilities of the sounds.
Her debut album, 2018's Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (interpreted by some as "I love every person's insides" said in a Scottish accent), took the potentialities of her trademark sound even further, creating a variety of imaginable futures for pop music—heartfelt candy ballads, wobbly bangers, gloriously existential ambient moments, stadium anthems—and self-expression. Amidst fiercely glowing keys and triumphant claps on the penultimate track "Immaterial," vocalist Cecile Believe reaches an Auto-Tuned fever pitch as she sings: "I could be anything I want / anyhow, any place, anywhere, anyone, any form, any shape, anyway, anything, anything I want!" Fuck judgment, fuck structures – in SOPHIE's world, it feels like we really can. Nina Posner
Amnesia Scanner 'Another Life' (PAN)
Amnesia Scanner are kind of like The Chemical Brothers of the experimental (or, dare I say it, deconstructed) club scene. Their juggernaut sound is primed for festival stages and retina-burning light shows, with a pop sensibility that gives their anarchic metallic stomp an anthemic, singalong quality. The duo feed a number of contemporary club sounds through the grinder on ‘Another Life’, calling on label mate Pan Daijing and Oracle, the band’s in-house vocalist created using a software stack, for vocals that pierce through Amnesia Scanner’s manicured wall of sound. These songs are spine-tingling hits for those who love it when melody and dirge come together and they capture the experimental club zeitgeist that’s had such an impact in the second half of the decade. Seb Wheeler
Nines 'Crop Circle' (XL)
As the decade rolls to a close, it feels as if British music of Black origin has never been in a better place when it comes to popularity and variety. Everything from UK drill and afroswing to grime, trap and rap have soundtracked the tens, even amid the lingering presence of police pressure. Nines’ ‘Crop Circle’ marks a key moment in this development, an immaculately-produced, UK-centric project laced with brick phone ballads and Church Road tales told in the rapper’s laid-back lilt.
The local feel to the project is best exemplified by its features, as his Ice City Boyz associates rub shoulders with broader British contemporaries, including Dave, WSTRN's Haile, Ray BLK and ‘tropical drill’ don SL. Similarly, the ‘Crop Circle’ short film, that Nines directed, boasts a who’s who of UK talent: Ghetts, J Hus and Kurupt FM's MC Grindah and DJ Beats to name a few, these figures drawn into the vision that Nines had created.
His debut studio album on XL 'One Foot Out', could have easily made this list, though 'Crop Circle' saw the artist solidify himself as a lynchpin of an ever-intriguing British Black music scene that is finally getting the plaudits it deserves this decade. James Ball
Sons Of Kemet 'Your Queen Is A Reptile' (Impulse!)
The furious creative output of Shabaka Hutchings and the fierce sax playing he brings to each of his projects has defined the new UK jazz scene, helping it become a top streamed genre among young people and developing bold new approaches such as the astral prog of The Comet Is Coming and the furious rhythmic workouts of Sons Of Kemet. The latter, featuring sax, tuba and two drummers, has created a blistering form of dance music that charges forward with taught syncopation, frequently taking left turns into psychedelic whirls of improvisation. ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ is their third and most finely-honed album this decade, a blast of protest music that is anti-monarchy and anti-Brexit with tracks dedicated to influential black women throughout history. A timely, life-affirming work of art. Seb Wheeler
Loraine James 'For You And I' (Hyperdub)
Loraine James torpedoed into our lives this year with an album that captured hearts, minds, souls and, well, ear canals.
The Enfield-hailing artist released ‘For You And I’ on Hyperdub – a label we’ve waxed lyrically about when it comes to both the quality of its roster and the quality of its releases this decade and in years prior – bringing with her an aptitude for intimate music-making that welcomes listeners into a narrative. One that encourages those who wish to submerge in her musical pool to look inwards to explore their own lives and stories, too.
Inspired, in part, by her experiences as a queer woman forming relationships, growing up and figuring out life in the capital, James dives head first into a toy box of rich sounds spanning jazz, drill, grime, ambient and most notably IDM as she plays with genres in a Very Much Hyperdub way (AKA, with a sort of casual mischievousness that leads to the disbanding of said genres completely, instead favouring the interesting middle grounds between them); pieces from various puzzles fitting together despite their differences, with standouts galore depending on what adventure you choose, or indeed what style you’re drawn to more.
The result of such playful experimentation? Well, the album feels like a sort of solo, one-woman jam session, bar the guest vocal features (Le3 bLACK, Theo and even James’ girlfriend). James wears her heart on her sleeve as and when appropriate, necessary even, as she weaves through heady emotions such as euphoria, happiness, defiance and anxiety – many of them working in tandem to offer a true taste of the human experience as well as insight into more personal matters in James’ life. "I'm in love, and I wanted to share that in some way," James said of the album. And I’m a little bit in love with this, too. Jasmine Kent-Smith
Kornél Kovács 'Stockholm Marathon' (Studio Barnhus)
I love how Kornél Kovács pops up with a Cheeky Banger every couple of years. The handsome Studio Barnhus protagonist always has a glint in his eye, probably because he drinks from the Secret Elixir Of Rave, gifting him big-choon-writing powers other mere mortal producers don’t possess. Just look at the hit rate: ‘Szikra’, ‘Pantalón’, ‘BB’, ‘The Bells’. The guy’s leagues ahead. And his sampledelic debut album would have made this list if it wasn’t for his sophomore ‘Stockholm Marathon’, which is perfect from start to finish and contains future classics like ‘Purple Skies’, ‘Marathon’ and ‘Rocks’. It’s what every pop/house fusion record should sound like, a blend of outrageously big hooks and studio finesse, anthems for basements not stadiums. Seb Wheeler
MC Yallah x Debmaster 'Kubali' (Hakuna Kulala)
‘Nasonga’ is one of those tracks where I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard it. I was at home, sitting with my laptop, next to my best friend Moo Moo (our cat). Far less exciting that the usual club-based story but it was significant all the same. Being from London and living in a South East borough, I’m exposed to a lot of MCs of all genres but there was something distinct about this collab between MC Yallah and Debmaster. There are so many little sounds and vocal distortions bouncing off each other. You need a few listens to really take in the complexities of the production and how MC Yallah manages to work this effortlessly.
‘Sifa Leero (Gangsta Edition)’ and ‘Teba Kuda Mabega’ is equal measures raw and bizzare, MC Yallah’s flow is unmatched - no matter what madnesses the beat is doing, they’re on point - never caught slipping. Lyrics discussing Ugandan life, of the little I could understand, remind me of the same energy I hear at home. A frank discussion, no frills, straight greaze.
The only releases of this vein that is on par is Sikka Rymes ‘Love Di People’ on Bokeh Versions and ‘Slip B’ by Slikback & Hyph11E on SVBKVLT. Both twist and warp static genres in brain melting ways. Proving that a hard track doesn’t have to be fast, you still go in at 100 bpm. Yewande Adeniran
Pelada 'Movimiento Para Cambio' (PAN)
When deciding on the selections for this feature, the later we got through the decade, the harder it became to pinpoint what to include. 2019 releases, especially, have had less time to sit, less to to make an impact, less time for their influence to proliferate through minds and scenes. That said: Pelada’s 'Movimiento Para Cambio', which dropped in October, already feels seismic.
A fierce sense of urgency drives the Montreal duo’s debut album. Producer Tobias Rochman lays a foundation of bright rave synths, palpitating Latin percussive rhythms, atmospheric trance and earth-shattering acid, which vocalist Chris Vargas takes to another level with acid-tongued lyrical delivery, delving into themes spanning patriarchal oppresion to surveillance culture to the impending climate catastophe in sharp Spanish language polemics. The music is electrifying, and speaking from experience, those who don’t understand the words can feel the sharpness of their intent, and feel compelled to research their meaning. As a new decade dawns, Pelada’s voice will be vital in critical discourse, as well as clubland kicks. Patrick Hinton
DJ Python 'Derretirse' (Dekmantel)
Reggaeton was omnipresent this decade, from underground club crews like NAAFI, Staycore, Bala Club and Mixpak to chart-smashing sensations like J Balvin and Bad Bunny, who had Drake singing in Spanish on ‘Mia’. But away from Billboard-bothering link-ups and genius club bootlegs, DJ Python was busy concocting self-styled deep reggaeton, which married the genre’s signature rhythm with dusky atmospherics more commonly associated with dub techno and the deepest of house. Think ‘Selected Ambient Works’ on a dembow flex, introduced on ‘Dulce Compañia’ in 2017 and expanded upon with ‘Derretirse’ earlier this year, which boasts a more immersive sound quality and Python’s now signature elongated excursions, which lope in a mesmeric manner for up to seven minutes. Breathtaking. Seb Wheeler