Music

The 25 Best Electronic Albums of 2018

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2018 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 25 best albums.

25. Great Dane - Gamma Ray (ADBC)

Dane Morris is truly a great artist and he has proven so time and again over the course of his career. Gamma Ray was the bass worshipping Los Angeles beatsmith's fourth full-length, and continued the naming scheme started on his 2013 debut Alpha Dog and its 2014 follow up Beta Cat. He went positively aquatic with this one, squirting out a bevy of murky downtempo beats that'll have you floating eerily across the dance floor.

Given the aggressively humorous note the album start on, an Adult Swim-like sketch featuring a laser-touting feline, and the thuggish bass crushing that follows on "Sorry Steve", the poignant soul-searching of "Fog & Fear" may come as a surprise, but Great Dane cannot be contained by a singular mode of expression. Influences from Jamaica, Japan, England, and beyond colour the sonic diversity of Gamma Ray. This thing is a trip in more ways than one. Drift away with it. - Alan Ranta

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube

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24. Daniel Avery - Song For Alpha (Mute/Phantasy)

On Song For Alpha British DJ and producer Daniel Avery stuck to the fundamental dictum that music should take you to somewhere unexpected - all whilst furthering his own unique, sonic identity. This singularity was apparent throughout the album as tracks adeptly swang from moments of serene contemplation to dynamic techno. While still a techno album at heart, Song For Alpha was a far starker affair than his brilliant debut Drone Logic. From the outset, there was a cohesiveness and depth to the tracks that were gradually revealed as Avery turned back a little more of its skin to see what lay beneath. Incorporating immersive ambient synths, slabs of white noise and tense, dark, droning sounds, Avery captured the unrelenting and captivating dualism between tranquility and chaos. The result was a sweeping, majestic album that sent the listener soaring above mountainous peaks or gently brushing the canyon floor, often during the space of a single track. Song For Alpha grasped the ebbs and flows of the dancefloor and understood that the best electronic music should transport you to places where the how's and why's are no longer important. - Paul Carr

LISTEN: Spotify | WATCH: "Projector" / "Slow Fade"

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23. Mefjus - Manifest (Vision Recordings)

Austrian producer Martin Schober's second full-length album rode the cutting edge of contemporary drum and bass. His compositions on Manifest are liquid smooth, technically sophisticated, industrial strength, ass shake-tastic slabs of hardcore hip-hop posturing twisted around mind-bending, tech-infused, horror sci-fi tune-smithing with all the warped basslines you can handle and surprising organic samples enriching its dank timbre pallet.

As a whole, Manifest has such a compelling narrative flow, the listener is swept away by the undertow, so engrossed they may end up minutes later wondering where the hell in the track listing they are. This was arguably the single most impressive drum and bass album since Evol Intent dropped their debut, Era of Diversion, a whole decade ago. Fans of Noisia, Enei, and Phase need this in their collection. - Alan Ranta

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Fractured" / "Together"

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22. Gas - Rausch (Kompakt)

Wolfgang Voigt continues to find ways to fundamentally reshape the same rich ambient spaces he's always envisioned through his Gas project, and on Rausch — the follow-up to his 2017 comeback, the more luminous Narkopop — his aural landscapes dip into darker and more ominous realms. The atmospheric world of Rausch (technically a single longform piece) is undeniably slow to transform, but that glacial movement from wind-swept trees and the quiet pang of cymbals to near-subliminal industrial clatter and a steady four-on-the-floor beat is transcendental. Voigt again utilizes his signature foggy club backdrops, but here those elements feel murkier, weighed down with the sludge of reverb and throbbing sub bass. In its place, a general discord dominates the album, with mismatched organs, strings, and pads that loom over the expanse. So much of the classic Gas sound is situated in the margins, and while that's certainly also true of Rausch, the dissonance is the prime, potent force at the forefront of the sound. As a result, Rausch is a more heady, overstated step for Voigt, but one that's no less hypnotic, and perhaps even more visceral. - Colin Fitzgerald

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify | WATCH: Trailer

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21. RP Boo - I'll Tell You What! (Planet Mu)

RP Boo's merciless third album, I'll Tell You What!, is the sound of an apex predator staking out his hunting ground. It's the kind of purist statement that only comes across once in a blue moon, an album that expands the scope of its genre—in this case, Chicago footwork—by looking inward rather than outward, stripping the genre to its constituent parts rather than bulking it up with outside influences. This is the footwork godfather's first album of new material following two career-spanning compilations, but if it's designed for home listening as much as dancing, it reminds us why the challenging genre proved so popular in the first place. At its best, it makes us feel as if we're in the center of a maelstrom, walking on air. It's explicitly badass music, and RP Boo presents himself as an old master at work: "watch and witness," he gloats, before bringing those razor-sharp snares back in. - Daniel Bromfield

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube

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20. Tim Hecker – Konoyo (Kranky)

Many paths to experimentalism have an electronic music origin, and the work of Tim Hecker, as off-kilter as it always is, displays a kinship to leftfield and ambient deviations of electronic music. In his previous work Love Streams, Hecker reconfigured recorded vocals to act as different components of his extravagant progression, turning them to beats or bass lines. With Konoyo he uses the same strategy but on a gagaku ensemble, resulting in a fierce exercise in sound collage. By performing these alchemical machinations, Hecker is able to produce an ambient world filled with familiar pieces, a note here and percussive rhythm there, but when put together they create a complete novel result. It is a work that bridges the approach of Love Streams with the darker days of Ravedeath, 1972, and Virgins, which makes Konoyo the missing piece of Hecker's discography, and one of his crowning achievements. - Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "This Life"

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19. Inja - Blank Pages (Hospital)

Just when you thought there wouldn't be any more great jungle albums, along came British MC and poet Gareth Hue (a.k.a Inja) with his deep lyric book and a coterie of broken beat bad boys to create Blank Pages. On his impressive debut album, Inja dropped future R&B and grime-tinged vocals over a bevy of half-step offerings so choice you'd think Roni Size & Reprazent just won the Mercury Prize. While the range of collaborating producers is vast and varied, counting Pete Cannon, Nu:Tone, Logistics, Serum, Whiney and Anile among their ranks, the sound is held down tight, working that classic mode of old school hardcore imbued with hip-hop hustle and neo-soul smoothness to utter perfection.

Yet, for how hard this record bangs and makes you want to pogo back in time, it's actually quite grounded. Inja wasn't afraid to go personal lyrically, shining a light in dark corners of modern society and speaking truth to power, while having his daughter Queen Zee master a portion of the album underscored the ultimate sense of familial love that permeates Blank Pages. It's an album that pleases body and spirit. - Alan Ranta

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "War Games"

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18. Proc Fiskal - Insula (Hyperdub)

Edinburgh producer Joe Powers' debut album Insula is a distilled and hazy, deconstructed and then reconstructed view of grime and UK dance music. An energized rehash of tired tropes filtered through the mind of someone who grew up with the rise of social media platforms and in a world riddled with attention deficit. Despite Insula's reliance on recognizable sounds and tropes, it never feels nostalgic as these elements are subverted and recontextualized. In its core, the album reads like an optimistic and genuinely fun affair, a cheeky commentary on society with a melancholy undertone that twinkles at hyperspeed, seemingly aimless, but with an overarching resolve.

Video game sound bites, laser sharp synthesizers, and sickeningly sweet concoctions of noises all coexist as they saturate the soundscape and float around a danceable base. The album is relentless in its attack, dense as individual sounds clash in a blazingly fast interplay, yet simultaneously light and enjoyable as a summer breeze. Because of this unlikely coexistence of elements, the record can function both as dancefloor fuel and a layered puzzle to be solved in solitude. While one of the title's interpretations alludes to Powers' own artistic isolation, the album feels quite the opposite—emphatically connected and visionary. - Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Dish Washing" / "Dopamine"

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17. Eartheater - IRISIRI (PAN)

The name of Alex Drewchin's project could be "earth eater" or "ear theater," and either is apt: IRISIRI is subterranean music with a theatrical sense of jollity. The former Guardian Alien member is a vocal contortionist, her voice skyrocketing into a keening upper range reminiscent of Henry Cow's Dagmar Krause when she's not rapping, screaming, doing bone-dry valley-girl impressions or stacking her voice into layers that'd make Julianna Barwick jealous. In keeping with electronic full-lengths' recent trend towards holistic, filmic experiences, the short tracks here blur into one another, using start-stop tension to keep us on our toes. It's almost like a beat tape, and though hip hop looms large there are also hints of the squishy, organic microhouse of Ricardo Villalobos. Add abstracted feminist sloganeering ("inhale baby pink/exhale red!") and we have on our hands one of the best psychedelic protest albums of its time. - Daniel Bromfield

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Claustra" / "Inclined"

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​16. Helena Hauff – Qualm (Ninja Tune)

Helena Hauff's Qualm is a simple album, but not a shallow one. The bare-nosed functionalism of minimalist dance music has long been a preoccupation of indie electronic artists seeking a way back to exploratory artistry of the 1980s, but for many, nostalgia for the formative years of techno have left little room for modern iteration. Qualm exists in a limbo state between the utilitarian grooves of the past and their experimental evolution, a subtly dizzying record that neither breaks out of nor relies too heavily on its retro inspirations. Hauff crafts a raw, singular document of straight-to-tape, in-your-face electronic force when the prevailing sound of the day is passive soundscapes, and yet her music maintains its danceable pulse under the heavy weight of a distorted skeleton. She remains separate from the insular hivemind of modern electronic music trends, and yet Qualm is still a breeze to listen to, stimulating without being inaccessible, and familiar without being conventional. Ultimately, in its stark, propulsive, spontaneous energy, Qualm is raw techno at work. - Colin Fitzgerald

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Qualm: A Short Film"

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