Over the last two decades, Warp Records has evolved from one of the best electronic-music labels in the world to one the best music labels in the world, period. Though its focus has widened to include indie rock, Britpop, noise rock, and other, less categorizable sounds, the quality has never dropped. This is likely because Warp privileges growth and exploration over repetition of past sounds and successes. The imprint’s long history feels more like a 20-year experiment — and today, that experiment remains as exciting as ever.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the label has launched Warp20, offering a deluxe box set, presenting events and concerts around the world, and providing a look back at some of its most memorable videos.
We’re marking the occasion ourselves by revealing our four favorite albums from Warp’s varied discography. We want to hear what your faves are too. Check out our picks below, and then tell us what we missed in the comments.
Flavorpill Readers’ Choice: Aphex Twin: Richard D. James Album (1996)
“A lot of people forget to make it into music. It’s very technical and not very emotional. When it’s got the two, then that’s when I really like it,” Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, said in an interview with Perfect Sound Forever. He was talking about making music with “interactive systems and components,” whatever that meant back in 1997, but he might as well have been talking about just making music. For him, it wasn’t music unless it included the emotional, and not many artists could elicit the range of emotions he did with 1996’s Richard D. James Album: joy, melancholy, disgust, laughter and that prickly, anxious feeling you get when you’re listening to something too complex to process in real time. Many of the tracks on Richard D. James Album would eventually find their way into soundtracks and TV commercials (though, sadly the California Milk Processor Board never bought “Milkman”), and James would finally reach MTV before significantly reducing his musical output. Warp founder Steve Beckett said earlier this year that James would release a new LP on his label either this year or next. Who knows if it’ll be totally unfamiliar, or like the Aphex Twin found on Richard D. James. As long as it’s got the two, we know we’ll like it. — Jessica Suarez
Jimi Tenor: Organism (1999)
Long before Warp signed electronic crooner Jamie Lidell, another funky white boy named James was bringing an organic touch of soul to the heady, left-field imprint. In 1999 while Paris was still burning with filtered House and Berlin was just catching fire with minimalist clicks, Norwegian Warhol doppleganger Jimi Tenor released Organism, an overtly electro-pop fin-du-siecle soundtrack informed equally by Prince and Y2K hysteria. Tenor and his avant-funk would likely stand out at any record label, but on uber-cool Warp, its disco lounge vibe seemed anomalous, almost a cause for alarm. Ten years later, thanks to sensitive types with synthesizers like Junior Boys and Kelley Polar, indie electro-pop is still kicking; Warp is still the marquee “IDM” label; Jimi Tenor is still mixing things up, doing guest vocals on the upcoming GusGus album 24/7 and collaborating with Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen for the latest Inspiration Information volume for Strut…and the world? Still waiting for THE END. — Jorge Hernandez
Boards Of Canada: Geodaddi (2002)
Timing is everything. When Board’s of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children came out, so distinct was its sound—a combination of scratchy analog melodies, warped vocal snippets, and trip hop beats—that many thought it was a revolution, a whole new genre of electronic listening music. When the followup album Geogaddi arrived, it was fated to disappoint, as it couldn’t possibly create the stir Music had. This is ironic, because removed from the initial acclaim of Music‘s new sound—and Geogaddi‘s inevitable letdown—the latter actually comes out the better album. Geogaddi has everything that made Music such a fascinating listen. What it does, however, is refine Music‘s approach by changing the emphasis from melody to texture and sound. Highlights including “Music is Math,” “Alpha and Omega,” and “Julie and Candy” are less melodic, slower, and include texture and atonal sound to a greater degree. The differences created a darker, more melancholic sound, but also a more vibrant album. — Matt McGovern
Jamie Lidell: Multiply (2005)
Jamie Lidell’s essentially a one-man soul machine on Multiply. Using digital percussion, a microphone, and his voice, he was able to seamlessly mix genres, and, with his own transformation, symbolize Warp’s move from wildly diverse electronic label to wildly diverse label. It’s been four years since this Lidell debuted his alter-ego on Multiply, and it’s instantly-likable mash of soul and electronics could sit him next to Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone just as well as anyone else on Warp’s rooster. — Jessica Goldfond