Indie Experimental Art Pop, 2019
If there was a lesbian multi-nodal polyam relationship between Tegan and Sara’s, Feist’s, and Annie Clark’s music, and they birthed a child during a lightning storm that somehow, Frankenstein-like, infused the infant with its spark… that child could be Arthur Moon’s self-titled debut album. Does that make sense? Probably not. Anyway, with exquisite pop sensibility, weird singer-songwriter creativity and disdain for traditional song structures, and crunchy, rocking hooks and melodies, this album is killer. The electro touches, especially on Lora-Faye Åshuvud’s vocals, but also on the deftly-applied chopping and screwing of the instrumentation, keep this album consistently fresh, exciting, and often pleasantly unexpected. She breaks all the rules so beautifully.
Indie Electronic Soft Pop, 2015
Sui Zhen’s music is so delightfully weird. Do I understand it? No. Is it extremely pleasant to listen to? Yes. Secretly Susan is ever so slightly weirder than 2019’s Losing, Linda, so I recommend it! I know that both of these albums are dealing with technology and its impact on identity and sense of self, but honestly that’s as much as I need. Is there a meaning in the music video linked above? To be honest, I don’t think so. Just enjoy the weirdness and vibe.
Also Check Out: 2019’s Losing, Linda, which is like yacht rock for cyborg aliens.
Lesbian Jesus really delivered with this one. Pure gay pop goodness. One overlooked aspect of this album, I think, is how meticulously constructed it is as a whole. I think she really could have put out a collection of singles and it would have been a wrap. But Expectations has a genuine opener (or “Overture”) that blends right into standout “Feelings.” Then not one but two back-to-back two-parters with “Mercy/Gatekeeper” and “Under The Blue/Take Me In,” either of which could have been split into a single, standard pop song. She’s even got a little interlude after smash single “Curious.” I don’t think anyone really underestimates or underrates Lesbian Jesus, but still. This whole album goes.
17. Baths, Cerulean
Baths was essentially my entryway into underground electronic music. Birthed around the same time as “chillwave,” it went in a slightly different direction, using choppy, loopy chiptune and synth to evoke future anxiety rather than blissful nostalgia. Almost 10 years later, it still sounds unique — no small feat.
Also Check Out: 2013’s Obsidian; once Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld got more confident in his singing, Baths went in a poppier direction, with great results. Also: Wiesenfeld wrote and performed the theme song to Dream Daddy, a gay dad dating simulation video game, which… yes, I downloaded. I still haven’t played it though, but the theme song goes!
Alternative Jazzy Folk Pop, 2019
Bebé Machete does incredibly creative, unexpected things on this album. They modulate their voice, going up and down in register, to spoken word, switching seamlessly between English and Spanish, to distortion and reverb, and back again — sometimes in the same song. They play with time signatures — you never know if a song will speed up, slow down, and/or stop completely. Their take on salsa, latin jazz, and low-fi pop music is fresh and immediate and challenging and lovely. It’s also highkey inspiring: “Imperfection is so liberating,” Machete begins the album’s opener, Mx. Machete. And on closer Ta Vivo: “All we got is you, me, one another/ together we will liberate each other.” Between the two, a fecund well of seemingly limitless creativity. This one deserves quite a few listens.
Electro Indie Pop, 2012
This album came out a year or so before Michael Angelakos got married, and a few years before he got divorced and then came out. And during, as was revealed later, the throes of the worst of a yearslong struggle with bipolar disorder. This music video — which looks like two great friends who get along great and can’t understand why they don’t work together romantically — is incredibly prescient in retrospect. Gossamer is the happiest sounding album about heartbreak and death and mental illness I’ve ever heard, and to this day it’s still a marvel of production. How do you make something so big that still feels direct and poignant and meaningful? The opening line (and, even title) of “I’ll Be Alright” is a mission statement for the band: “Can you remember ever having any fun?/ Cause when it’s all said and done/ I always believed we were/ But now I’m not so sure.” It’s almost like Gossamer is a response to that thought process, like Angelakos decided, “I’m not sure if I’m having fun, or if I ever have, but I’m going to make an album that sounds like the sonic equivalent of having as much fun as possible, more fun than anyone could possibly ever have, too much fun.” And succeeded.
Experimental Industrial Pop, 2016
This is one of the most important albums, by one of the most important musicians, of our time. ANOHNI’s debut takes laser aim at climate change, American interventionist foreign policy, violent masculinity, as well as heartbreak, with her incomparable voice. It’s hard to imagine a better merger of form and function than the harsh industrial production and the subject matter of this polemic of an album, and hard to imagine a more striking contrast between those two things and her voice, which lilts and sways and floats and also cuts. Incredibly deeply.
Also Check Out: everything that Antony & The Johnsons (ANOHNI’s pre-transition band) ever released! But especially their first two, I Am A Bird Now and The Crying Light, and their live albums.
A lot of people think of dance when they think of electronic music. Props to Pitchfork for coining the term “conceptronica” — SOPHIE makes electronic music for queer cyborgs to glitch out to. It’s definitely not dance music, and isn’t even necessarily consistently enjoyable to listen to—but it is beautiful, touching, weirdly erotic, unnerving, disarming… “It’s OK To Cry” is simultaneously the most accessible song on the album, similar to almost nothing else by SOPHIE, and yet it’s also one of the best. “Immaterial” sounds like if a robot woman — let’s call her “Pandora” — became an American pop star, and was able to do all of the moves and understood on an algorithmic level how to make pop music, but had no soul. Which is a good way to describe most of SOPHIE’s music, actually.
Indie Rock/Pop, 2011
Like Be Steadwell, Tune-Yards has to be heard live to be appreciated. The core element here is Merrill Garbus’ incredibly powerful, expressive voice, but equally important is her out-there, kitchen-sink style of DIY song-building. Built from the ground up with electric ukelele, off-kilter drum patterns looped continuously, and controlled by her deft feet, which bring together the harmonized yelps and bits of drum crashes at perfect moments, the final product is a sight to behold; a dizzying, glorious mish-mash of indie pop, rock, world music, jazz, R&B, and basically everything else. w h o k i l l – originally titled “women who kill,” by the way – is a powerhouse of emotion, vitriol, and creativity. On later records — Nikki Nack to a degree and especially I can feel you creep into my private life — Tune-Yards got a bigger budget and shinier production values. So they aren’t as raw, and the loop pedal became somewhat unnecessary. But they didn’t lose their innovative, DIY spirit.
Also Check Out: 2018’s I can feel you creep into my private life, where Garbus interrogates her own white privilege in an incredibly vulnerable and arresting way over an outsider-pop soundtrack.
11. Kelela, Cut 4 Me
Artsy Electro Pop/R&B, 2013
Kelela was making artsy, innovative pop/R&B, with warped synths, unique percussion, and unexpected arrangements — backed by peripatetic, maudlin yet alien vocals — long before fka Twigs and other “Escape Room” artists took up the mantle. There are two things, in my opinion, that make Kelela stand out, and make this album one of the best of the decade. The first is her vocals, which sound effortless, regardless of whether she’s floating high or bellowing. She also isn’t afraid to manipulate them; she flits from being a chanteuse to her own robot accompaniment on a dime and without it being disorienting. The second is the overall pop sensibility. Listen to “Send Me Out” and tell me you don’t hear Solange in the intro. The thing is, where Solange, Twigs, even SOPHIE had to forego making music that might be played in the club in order to achieve their artistic vision, Kelela manages to have it all. This album belongs in the club and in the museum – not a simple feat.
Also Check Out: 2017’s Take Me Apart might be equally as good, or better, than Cut 4 Me, so I decided to choose the one that had a bigger impact on the decade.