Dreams, Machines and Wonderful Scenes
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The Best Electronic Albums of 2018
AFTER this piece, I am going to do one or two...
IN THIS PHOTO: Jon Hopkins/PHOTO CREDIT: Pitch Perfect PR/Getty Images
more lists that collate together the best albums from particular genres. Today, I am looking at Electronic albums of 2018 and the ones that thrilled the critics. Electronic music has changed radically through the decades and it is always great charting its changes and evolutions. 2018 has been a big one and produced some truly stunning albums. Here are the essential Electronic albums that you need in your life and prove what a...
IN THIS PHOTO: Helena Hauff/PHOTO CREDIT: Julian Bajsel, courtesy of Panorama
SUPERB genre it is.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Date of Release: 4th May, 2018
Producer: John Hopkins
“Details are where this album is most rewarding: every moment is deeply considered. Hopkins intended for it to be heard in one go, and there’s every reason for listeners to set aside an hour and let themselves be carried off into his mesmerising world. ‘Feel First Life’ comes close to a religious experience by harnessing the transcendent power of sacred choral music (Hopkins trained at the Royal College of Music as a teen). Then there’s the warm come-down of piano tracks such as ‘Echo Dissolve’ and ‘Recovery’, which he recorded on two separate pianos – a grand and an upright – and cut together to combine their timbres. The former, something like Nils Frahm’s ‘Felt’, is so intimate that you can almost hear the keys brushing against one another as they’re pressed.
Perhaps the clearest example of Hopkins’ painstaking hypnotic mastery is ‘Luminous Beings’, a 12-minute, glitchy warp-field: first he envelops the listener in a muted, arrhythmic clattering, then, like some beneficent Willy Wonka, sets them adrift in a cloud of bubbling synths, and draws them momentarily above cloud level on a pillow of keening strings before letting them loose again. Like the rest of the album, it’s magic, and when closer ‘Recovery’ ends – on the same note upon which the album started – you’ll want to start the trip all over again” – NME
Standout Tracks: Singularity/Everything Connected/Luminous Beings
Finest Cut: Emerald Rush
Aphex Twin – Collapse EP
Date of Release: 14th September, 2018
Producer: Richard D. James
“The elastic percussion rolls and stutters, recalling the fluid beat structures of Second Woman, before reaching sonic overload. Yet after all of that, it doesn't end up sinking the rhythm or melody, which continue on their merry way. "1st 44" features shredded, scratched-up samples of old-school jungle over scrambled electro beats, referencing the past without sounding like a retro throwback. "MT1 t29r2" includes harp-like tones which recall Aphex's classic 1993 single "On," but this track is more fractured and hyperkinetic than angelic. Concluding track "pthex" (inexplicably left off the EP's vinyl issue) is another exhilarating blend of atmospheric pads and adrenalin-rush beats and glitches which threaten to overpower everything, but the track maintains it composure. Somewhat ironically titled, Collapse ends up being one of Aphex's stronger post-2000 releases” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: 1st 44/MT1 t29r2/pthex
Finest Cut: T69 Collapse
SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
Date of Release: 15th June, 2018
Labels: MSMSMSM/Future Classic/Transgressive
“Her other mode of expression is the one she deployed on early tracks such as Hard: mechanistic dance tracks as sexual, tough and water-resistant as the prostate massagers she once sold as merch. But where once those tracks were tinny, here they have become steroidally imposing, gilded with distortion and industrial heft. Based around catchy chants, perfect for skipping rope games conducted by dominatrices, Ponyboy, Faceshopping and the Aladdin-quoting Whole New World/Pretend World are dazzlingly brash and butch. Pretending is less successful – a stately bit of Tim Hecker-ish ambient, where her very particular sonics get lost in reverb – but it leads into the album’s biggest pop moment, Immaterial, where all the latent J-pop vibes get brought to the fore in a high-speed pachinko cacophony.
Despite software advances, so many electronic producers are content to lapse into nostalgia or a safe, compromised emotional range; Sophie has crafted a genuinely original sound and uses it to visit extremes of terror, sadness and pleasure” – The Guardian
Standout Tracks: Ponyboy/Faceshopping/Not Okay
Finest Cut: It’s Okay to Cry
Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
Date of Release: 1st June, 2018
Producers: Daniel Lopatin/James Blake
“Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, has become increasingly collaborative in recent years, producing for David Byrne, writing for singers FKA Twigs and Anohni, and composing an eerie soundtrack for the Safdie brothers’ 2017 film Good Time. As such, Age Of is a collective effort, employing Anohni’s choral vocals on the distortion-heavy Same, noise artist Prurient’s screams on Warning and James Blake’s keyboards on the pixelated melodies of Still Stuff That Doesn’t Happen.
Lopatin entices the listener through sweeping orchestrations, such as those of the title track and Manifold, and then abruptly manufactures discordance. Expectations are subverted, as when the opulence of the harpsichord is manipulated beyond recognition or a piercing shout infiltrates a rhythm. Since every composition holds this tension within its structure, it feels like an aesthetic choice rather than a gimmick. The more time you spend with Age Of, the more Lopatin’s instrumentations reveal depth” – The Observer
Standout Tracks: Babylon/The Station/RayCats
Finest Cut: Black Snow
Gaika – BASIC VOLUME
Date of Release: 27th July, 2018
“Unsurprisingly, the album is a melting pot of musical references. “Black Empire” has echoes of dancehall whereas the title track offers a distorted vision of R’n’B, steeped in reverb. On the pulsating “Hackers & Jackers”, on the other hand, a heavy beat forms its back drop while choral chanting fleshes out “Seven Churches For St Jude”. If this sounds chaotic, it isn’t. Basic Volume is one of the most cohesive and meticulously thought-through albums of the year.
Throughout the record, GAIKA’s vocals enter under various guises of distortion. The result could at times seem stark, but instead produces an entirely unique industrial soundscape. You wouldn’t be wrong to detect a dystopian slant both lyrically and musically overall. But it is not a dystopia of GAIKA’s own creation; rather Basic Volume serves as a mirror to the one we have already created. Gaika is not just the artist we want, but the artist society desperately needs” – The Line of Best Fit
Standout Tracks: Seven Churches for St Jude/36 Oaths/Yard
Finest Cut: Born Thieves
Objekt – Cocoon Crush
Date of Release: 9th November, 2018
“Track five, “Deadlock,” is the album’s heaviest cut, but it’s also the slowest: a bare-knuckled hip-hop instrumental that sounds like classic Def Jux rendered in retina-burning high definition. Even on “Runaway,” the album’s only true club cut, he refuses to play it straight. In the middle, he removes the beat for nearly a minute, layering tentative piano chords and gurgling synths over the sounds of a children’s playground. When the beat finally returns, it’s stronger, as if recharged by a meditative walk around the block. It’s like a diagram of the creative process itself.
The closer, “Lost and Found (Found Mix),” is a rework of the intro, but it’s no mere coda. A more customary producer would have floated an ambient intro and then wrapped up with the dancefloor version, but Hertz takes the opposite approach: The closing is a seven-minute deconstruction of the opener that jettisons almost all trace of conventional beats. It’s no coincidence that the version subtitled “Found Mix” is the one that ventures furthest from the familiar: To find the essence of Objekt, Hertz has ventured well past techno’s borderlands. Four years later, Flatland still sounds ahead of its time, but Cocoon Crush is leagues beyond it. It shows a total disregard for club music’s strictures, concerned primarily not with floor-filling, but world-building” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: Nervous Silk/Runaway/Secret Snake
Finest Cut: Deadlock
Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman
Date of Release: 5th October, 2018
Label: Ninja Tune
Producer: Marie Davidson
“Throughout, Davidson refuses to be pigeonholed into any one corner of the club – with each track, she flexes her songwriting muscles in fascinating ways. The dreamy ‘Lara’ is a mind-melting composition, while the twinkling final track ‘La chambre intérieure’ acts as a remarkably human closer: “I feel empty in the summer breeze / In the mountain facing me“. ‘So Right’ is a bouncy club bop where the poppier edges rear their head, but it’s the pulsating beats of ‘Workaholic Paranoid Bitch’ and ‘Burn Me’ that will drill down into your brain longest.
Davidson’s ‘Working Class Woman’ is smart, intriguing and deserves to be heralded as one of the year’s most inventive releases – Lord knows she’s worked hard enough for it” – NME
Standout Tracks: Work It/Lara/Burn Me
Finest Cut: Your Biggest Fan
Gwenno – Le Kov
Date of Release: 2nd March, 2018
Label: Heavenly Records
Producer: Rhys Edwards
“There wasn't a song on Y Dydd Olaf as catchy and simple as the bouncy duet with Gruff Rhys, "Daromres Y'n Howl," or one as epic and deep as "Den Heb Taves." They layer guitars, synthesizers, piano, and drums in a very psychedelic manner throughout, keeping things murky and warm like a humid summer night. Gwenno adds her vocals on top of the mix in a number of ways, intoning breathily ("Hy a Skoellyas Lyf a Dhagrow"), cooing sweetly ("Jynn-Amontya"), billowing in wispy clouds of harmony and reverb ("Aremorika"), and sometimes adding some bite ("Eus Keus?") or melancholy yearning ("Koweth Ker") to the proceedings. While the diverse musical settings she and Edwards cook up for each song are impressive, Gwenno's vocals are a dream throughout. It's clear that she feels strongly about the words she is singing, and she inhabits every song fully. The music, words, and voice come together on Le Kov like fragments of the past put back together and made into a satisfying new whole that works as a lovely tribute to Cornish culture, while also solidifying Gwenno's place as an important artist” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Herdhya/Den Heb Taves/Hunros
Finest Cut: Tir Ha Mor
Smerz – Have Fun
Date of Release: 6th March, 2018
“On “Oh my my,” Stoltenberg punctuates every few lines with a sardonic reading of the title phrase, muttering about “basic bitch problems” over a shuddering, vacuum-like effect. You’re left wondering exactly what constitute “basic bitch problems” in the Smerz extended universe: is switching from dairy to almond milk making them feel bloated, or are they being sucked into a cold, blank void? The contrast is profound enough to make you giggle, especially since it’s obvious Smerz are in on the joke” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: Worth It/Oh my my/Fitness
Finest Cut: No harm
Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still
Date of Release: 15th June, 2018
Label: Nina Tune
“Leon Vynehall’s evolution as a producer has been fascinating. ‘Nothing Is Still’ retains the sultry atmosphere and warm synths of his previous work; but departs from Chicago house nostalgia for a melting pot of jazz fusion, ambient sound collage and trip-hop.
The outstanding distinction is a preference for atmosphere over song structure. On ‘Ice Cream’, ‘It Breaks’ and ‘Birds On The Tarmac’, synths and loops hover dreamily over field recordings of nature and everyday life. In sound, it is far closer to Basinski or Tim Hecker than Pepe Bradock.
Louder moments, however, are thrilling. ‘Envelopes’ is a particular highlight, with shades of Portishead in its slow, accented beat and dramatic strings. House appears in flashes, on ‘English Oak’ and ‘Drinking It In Again’, but the mixes are fuller and more psychedelic.
Many may still see Vynehall as a specialist in euphoric house, but this album has a richness and depth that transcends the dancefloor” – CLASH
Standout Tracks: Julia (Footnote IV)/Envelopes (Chapter VI)/Ice Cream (Chapter VIII)
Finest Cut: Movements (Chapter III)
Vessel – Queen of Golden Dogs
Date of Release: 9th November, 2018
Label: Tri Angle
“There’s clearly a lot of erudition behind this project – although how Gainsborough’s slightly obscure name-dropping enriches the listening experience is hard to gauge. What anybody can quickly glean is that this is an album intent on sustaining a constant state of flux. Sometimes the change is gradual – Arcanum (For Christalla) opens with a tune played on what sounds like a lute that begins leisurely and ends up frighteningly frantic. Elsewhere, it’s more stark, as when Argo’s spritely strings are greeted by disorientingly syncopated percussion. But for an album that veers between the hallmarks of happy hardcore and ghostly choral incantations, Queen of Golden Dogs makes a surprisingly satisfying whole. That’s largely thanks to Gainsborough’s efforts to maintain the balance between entertainingly jarring and modernity-evoking erraticism and a gratifying sense of beauty and peace that feels age-old” – The Guardian
Standout Tracks: Good Animal (For Hannah)/Glory Glory (For Tippi)/Sand Tar Man Star (For Aurellia)
Finest Cut: Argo (For Maggie)
Helena Hauff – Qualm
Date of Release: 3rd August, 2018
Label: Ninja Tune
“‘Qualms’, and its sister production ‘No Qualms’, on the other hand, use this slow progression to their advantage, maintaining a romantic melody that lends itself beautifully to the initial beatless piece and to its bouncy electro evolution. ‘No Qualms’, in many ways, is a therapeutic hike through an otherwise distorted dreamscape.
In ‘Panegyric’ we see a complete meandering from the raw aesthetic of the record. Helena’s post punk influences shine through on a track that sounds like it has come from the past, all be it with a distinctive futuristic edge.
We reach the climax of the record with another moody statement in the form of ‘It Was All Fields Around Here When I Was A Kid’. I’m unsure if the title of track is a direct inspiration, but given its wording you can almost see a time-lapse unfolding before you as concrete emerges from what once lay bare.
With ‘Qualm’, Helena Hauff has created the record we both wanted and needed. It’s a statement of romantic infatuation amongst an otherwise hash, twisted and raw landscape. A glance into the past and a look to the future. There is nothing apologetic about this record, and that’s what makes it so great” – CLASH
Standout Tracks: Barrow Boot Boys/Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket/No Qualms
Finest Cut: Qualm