2013's Best Voices in Electronic Music
by Philip Sherburne | December 31, 2013
Two of the year's most intriguing R&B releases came out on labels far better known for hard-hitting club music. Jessy Lanza's Pull My Hair Back, an ethereal, electronically distilled take on freestyle and '90s R&B, turned up on Hyperdub, a label more accustomed to rugged U.K. funky and bass music. Kelela's Cut 4 Me came from Fade to Mind, the American sister label of the U.K.'s Night Slugs, both of which focus on a stern, skeletal take on club music. These examples suggest how large R&B looms over dance music these days -- as it does over pop culture, full stop -- but they also show how central the voice has become in electronic music, even in corners of the scene that once shunned overt humanism.
It's fitting that in the year of "Blurred Lines" there was such a blurring of the lines between musical styles, and the human voice was often to thank for that. Pop vocals frequently sweetened the mixture, in the case of Rudimental, Disclosure and Dillon Francis. In the case of harder-edged artists, like DJ Rashad and Mark Pritchard, they were used like hydrofoils to maximize the glide. Meanwhile, artists like James Blake, Lorde and AlunaGeorge gave the singer-songwriter tradition an inventive digital twist, and M.I.A. brought a new degree of nuance to her rants. We've put together nearly two hours of house, footwork, R&B, electro-pop and rap to highlight the ways that vocals and electronic production evolved in tandem in 2013.