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.

15. Okzharp and Manthe Ribane - Closer Apart (Hyperdub)

Closer Apart is all about dichotomies. Producer Okzharp masterminds a sparse structure of electronic beats, while performance artist and singer Manthe Ribane warms each track with smooth vocal melodies. The duo never stays still for long; low-lying "Why U in My Way" sits alongside the swagger of "Zagga"; existential "Tide" comes before the blissful affirmations of "Kubona", which leads into the dance beats of "Theletsa". No matter how sharp the contrasts in mood, though, the pair pulls every song into a harmonious whole, looking at the big picture and the present moment all at once – a brilliant show of perspective. On Closer Apart, the mechanical and the organic are not mutually exclusive. Rather, Okzharp and Ribane use them to create tension with spectacular sonic potential. The minimalist approach both artists take only heightens the clarity of their yin-and-yang dynamic. Innovative, unpredictable, and improbably cohesive, Closer Apart signals a wide-open future worth exploring. - Adriane Pontecorvo

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Closer/Apart" / "Kubona"

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14. Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet (Warp)

Kelly Moran is an extremely versatile artist, musician and composer, who has been combining many different genres to build her unique sound. Modern composition, neo-classical motifs and improv might be leading the way, but there is an underlying electronic music component that also defines the creative potential of Moran, and that is brilliantly exposed in her new work Ultraviolet. The use of synths and effects compliment the prepared piano, providing Ultraviolet with a richer background, filled with delicate textures and experimental notions. It is an exquisite combination of concepts and ideas, and that electronic injection that Moran introduces is able to provide the whole endeavor with both a unique ambiance, but also with a plethora of colors that enhance the modern composition aspect of the work. It is the origin of the spectrum of sounds displayed in Ultraviolet, and the pivotal quality that takes this work over the top. - Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Helix (Edit)" / "In Parallel"

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13. Jon Hopkins - Singularity (Domino)

On his new album, acclaimed British producer Jon Hopkins set out to, as he put it, "follow the build, peak and release of a psychedelic experience." In effect he was looking to create a piece of work that enabled the listener to reflect on their conscious and unconscious selves.

The result was Singularity, an intense, wholly immersive record that invited the listener to temporarily escape from the mundane and the repetitious and take a peek into their own subconscious. By weaving in a thematic consciousness throughout each song on Singularity Hopkins managed to intensify the listening experience to successfully evoke the euphoria and vivid awareness of a psychedelic experience. In order to achieve this, Hopkin's split the album into two very distinctive halves. The first echoed a more physical journey to enlightenment with more urgent tracks such as "Singularity", "Neon Pattern" and "Emerald Rush" exhibiting Hopkins' recognizable mix of reverb heavy, throbbing beats and shuffling, fidgety synths. However, the second half saw the album mirroring a more spiritual transition. Gentle, ambient tracks like "Echo Dissolve" and "Recovery" guided the listener to an enlightened, spiritual end point on a nuanced, often breathtaking, sonic journey. - Paul Carr

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Singularity"

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12. Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune)

Marie Davidson's career has been flawless. Whether solo or with Pierre Guerineau in Essaie Pas, the Montreal-based producer and musician keeps releasing music that, at first glance, is dominated by an otherworldly sense of cool. Davidson wraps her alluring baseline of minimal techno into shrouds of darkwave and splinters of club music infected with a constant sense of spleen. But while her work with Essaie Pas might project an aura of anachronistic insularity—a sense of mysterious, noir removal from our time—as a solo artists she offers keen and brutal criticism of the world of electronic music and clubbing. And on Working Class Woman she's more vulnerable, empowered, and sharper than ever.

Working Class Woman is an unequivocally feminist record which puts sexism and misogyny at the center of Davidson's crosshairs. Her quips, delivered in deadpan spoken text, are simultaneously endlessly funny and painful. "I'm sorry I missed your set, I heard it was amazing / (I think she's sobered up, I heard she sucks in bed)," she reimagines dialogues with "fans" and overheard conversations. Davidson draws from her internal and external experiences as she narrates, with a personal, caricatured voice, the struggles of women in a male dominated world. Her music—an alloy of sparse techno, electro, disco, and industrial—feels both claustrophobic and expansive, diverse and direct, but always adaptive to the themes it supports. Despite all the irony and cynicism, Davidson ends the album with the bareness of "La Chambre intérieure", a bleak vision of Québec and a meditation on love. It's a genuine, emotional, and bitter ending to an important album. - Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube

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11. Objekt – Cocoon Crush (PAN)

If anyone wants to experience what musical evolution is, they can simply take a look at what TJ Hertz has done with Objekt. The techno producer unleashed an exquisite debut record, Flatland, back in 2014 showcasing his unique perspective when it comes to techno. Fusing IDM and industrial elements Objekt's debut record felt like a breath of fresh air for the genre, managing to stay within the confinements of the style but still push boundaries. Cocoon Crush, Objekt's sophomore full-length, completely unravels the foundations of the work presented in Flatland. While the notions of IDM and techno are still at the center of Hertz's new work, the approach that he takes presents a deconstructed scope of the genre. Industrial motifs, noise and sound design become prominent elements, while the progression of the record deviates from the monotonous techno approach and revels in this improvised manifestation.As interesting and enticing Flatland was, this evolutionary leap sees Objekt operate in a completely different level. - Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube

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10. DJ Koze - Knock Knock (Pampa)

DJ Koze's Knock Knock is a house "artist album" with the same skyward gaze and longing for transcendence as Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds, painted in psychedelic colors by no less deft a hand. The German producer trades in improbable emotional extremes, his hiccupping samples perpetually ready to burst into tears as strings swell behind them. On Knock Knock this tear-jerking grandeur is employed in the service of building massive platforms for the guests Koze now has the clout to call at will: indie stalwarts like Kurt Wagner and José Gonzalez, divas like Roisín Murphy, his own stable of Pampa weed-carriers. Compared to its predecessor from 2013, the astounding Amygdala, Knock Knock is a little more mercenary, more of a work of craftsmanship by a rising indie star. And at 78 minutes it can be a bit exhausting to take in one go, but there's so much great stuff here you might have a new favorite song every day. - Daniel Bromfield

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Pick Up"

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9. Maribou State - Kingdoms in Colour (Counter)

We are living In a period of history characterized by self-imposed isolation and willful insularity. At a time when governments are going to great lengths to demarcate their territory and reinforce their boundaries, British electronic band Maribou State produced an album that did quite the opposite. Taking inspiration from the music scenes and heritage of the places they had toured whilst promoting previous album, Portraits, Kingdoms of Colour is an album without borders. An album that straddles the globe from Delhi through to Libson, and pays little attention to where one genre starts and another ends.

From the Indian melodies, the Krautrock percussion to sweeping oriental strings, each song feels like embarking on a whistle stop world tour. Throughout the album, Maribou State skillfully layer a bold, prismatic fusion of styles that takes the listener on a beguiling musical journey. It is a daring, fascinating album that beautifully balances the organic and synthetic as the pair weave in live instruments with artfully chosen samples. By embracing a more expansive approach the band have created a beautifully heterogeneous album that illustrates what can be achieved by focusing one's gaze outwards and embracing diversity. - Paul Carr

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Nervous Tics"

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8. Ital Tek - Bodied (Planet Mu)

It might seem crazy now but before Ital Tek's 2016 masterpiece Hollowed was released, few, including its author, thought it was going to be a success. The subsequent critical adulation that followed may have taken him by surprise but it also afforded him the freedom to explore more deeply the cinematic, immersive soundscapes that he had created on Hollowed. Written in quick bursts while working on other projects, the music on Bodied was closer to avant-garde, classical music than anything remotely approaching traditional electronic music. Ital Tek took the physicality and geometry of his sound and created complex, atmospheric, otherworldly soundscapes that felt as if they are actively eschewing any common physical rules. Each song felt like an attempt to extricate himself from the limitations of time and place, creating atemporal, amorphous tracks that exist somewhere wholly new. The indeterminate nature of the music he created, added to the general sense of wonder. Sounds seem to drift in a non-definable void yet are so vividly and meticulously constructed to leave an album of breathtaking scope and vision. - Paul Carr

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Blood Rain"

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7. Lotic - Power (Tri Angle)

Electronic music, like hip-hop, is at its very core concerned with the operations of power. House and techno music were born out of struggle, from urban communities of LGBTQ people of color in need of spaces of salvation in which they could productively channel the frustration of surviving in an oppressive society. Lotic's Power is unsurprisingly about conflict, specifically from the perspective of the disempowered; songs with titles like "Resilience" and "Fragility" wordlessly tap into the emotional weight of existential strife at the heart of a hateful society, while the assertive industrialized grooves of "Distribution of Care" and "Bulletproof" serve as acts of cultural resistance. It's "Hunted's" whispered mantra, though — "Brown skin, masculine frame / Head's a target / Acting real feminine / Make 'em vomit" — that fully demonstrates the provocative, liberating virtue of an album like Power as it brandishes authority and tenacity against systems of privilege. Lotic's message is one of empathy and empowerment, and through its gritty, melancholy canals, Power fulfills the mission of its forebears. - Colin Fitzgerald

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Hunted"

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6. Amnesia Scanner – Another Life (PAN)

If Amnesia Scanner's 2015 EP AS was an ellipsis, a way for the Berlin-based Finnish duo of Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala to rather boldly announce their futuristic take on experimental EDM with a taste for entropy, Another Life is a furious exclamation mark. Tentatively living in the world of club music, they toy with the genre's elements, splicing them with their own mutant DNA. Rhythms clatter unpredictably and disjointedly just before hitting a sensuous groove, electronic effects appear jangly and abrasive as they fuse into melodies, and a general sense of suffocating tension is suddenly released in waves of stroboscopic climaxes and ambient passages.

True to its name, Another Life exists in a synthetic, cyberpunk replica of reality shifted ever so slightly out of phase. As human, post-human, and utterly inhuman vocals mesh, deceptively familiar but really alien and transmogrified sounds demand attention while they disappear out of reach and corrupt any points of reference. An anxious reflection on the pre-apocalyptic world of today or a vision of a future dystopian singularity? Another Life is both. - Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "AS A.W.O.L." / "AS Too Wrong"

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