Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Dance & Electronic Albums

4. Bonobo
The North Borders
(Ninja Tune)

In recent years, Ninja Tune — arguably one of the most important electronic music labels of the late '90 and early '00s — had been having a bit of an identity crisis, but thankfully the decade so far has seen the Ninja camp regain their vitality. Bolstered by label mainstay Amon Tobin's return to form in 2011 and a upsurge in signings of both breaking and established acts — Machinedrum, Raffertie and FaltyDL to name a few — combines to reaffirm the UK label's continued relevance.

2013 was Bonobo's year to bring meat to the table, not only with his superb addition to the Late Night Tales series but more importantly with his finest studio album to date. On The North Borders, producer Simon Green moved away from the overt jazz bass lines that defined much of his previous work. Gone also are the often cheesy Eastern melodies that made 2010's Black Sands feel somewhat dated, not to mention incongruous next to the album's Brainfeeder-influenced 8-bit glitchiness. Instead, what you get here is a far more subtle and cohesive album, with Green's signature melodic downtempo vibes peppered with several higher tempo tracks; the kalimba-heavy "Cirrus" could be easily mistaken for Four Tet or Caribou.

Strong vocal performances running throughout the album provide an irresistible emotional pull, from Grey Reverend on album opener "First Fires" to Szjerdene and Erykah Badu elsewhere. The North Borders is an honest, beautiful and immersive album that not only stands up to repeated listens but demands it. (Vincent Pollard)